Beat me up, Scotty
Poor Igby (Kieran Culkin) is the product of a family that is more than dysfunctional. It's easy to be suspicious of the parenting abilities of the rich in general, and Igby's family goes to the extreme of the stereotype. Igby's mother (Susan Sarandon) is a domineering substance abuser. His father (Bill Pullman) has been institutionalized for years. Providing a suitable role model in his father's absence is D.H. (Jeff Goldblum), who also happens to be Igby's godfather. And then there's his older brother Ollie (Ryan Phillippe), kind of a young republican who is interning with D.H..
The title tells us much. Everybody gets on Igby's case. There's nothing about his life that appeals to him, and nothing anybody does to encourage him. So, at just 17, Igby runs off. He secretly stays with D.H.'s mistress Rachel (Amanda Peet). He gets involved with Sookie (Claire Danes), older and more worldly, and not quite as cynical as him. When things get really bad, he stays with Rachel's gay artist friend Russel (Jared Harris). Every time he thinks on top of the situation, someone brings him down.
Igby Goes Down is something of a more eloquent version of The Royal Tenenbaums. We pull for Igby, and cringe when things go wrong. Tennenbaums is detached where Igby has heart, and that's the major difference between the two.
Eventually, the point of the film becomes clear. So long as Igby runs away from his problems, not dealing with them, he can never truly escape. The ending is a mixed one for our troubled protagonist, but not without him getting a clue to what's been missing for him.
It's good to see Claire Danes on the screen again. I don't think she's not been working, just that the release schedule for her films has been jumbled and some are only now starting to come out. Hers is the most interesting of the side characters, and there are details we never get to find out. We do get to see her trademark chin-quivering crying technique.
Amanda Peet continues to relish showing off her body on screen. With her, we get a shaving sequence close in oddity to the one in Tenenbaums - not quite the same emotional territory, but still odd nonetheless. This may be the best performance I've seen from her - it's certainly the best material I've seen her play.
It's also good to see Jeff Goldblum doing something not as straight as his usual roles. His D.H. has a certain neutral tenacity, an uncompromising interpretation of the world. He dominates the other characters in his presence by simply operating on nearly a completely different plane of existence.
Susan Sarandon again has a wonderful knack in portraying someone with independent concerns from those around her. As Igby's mother, she seems almost bored by her own life-threatening illness. At full strength, she'd be a fright in her own social circles. Her ill health mainly has the effect of causing her to throw her energy out in different directions.
As for Kieran Culkin's Igby, I wonder a bit. Playing him much more seriously might not fit a largely comedic film like this. Any less seriously would have cheated the story. Yet I desire a little more depth. Is it the script or is it the acting, or even something else? I can't put my finger on it, but it's there.
Igby Goes Down is a wonderful little film with quite a bit of heart and caring hidden inside the cold relationships that are portrayed. The challenge the film represents is worth its rewards.
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