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'Igby Goes Down'

Kieran makes 'Igby' more than just a coming-of-age film

Friday, October 04, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Your opinion of the movie "Igby Goes Down," now at the Manor and Loews theaters, could well depend on what you think of the character for whom it is named.

 
 
'Igby Goes Down'

RATING: R for language, sexuality and drug content.

STARRING: Kieran Culkin, Susan Sarandon, Claire Danes, Jeff Goldblum.

DIRECTOR: Burr Steers.

WEB SITE: www.igbygoesdown

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Is Igby (Kieran Culkin) a confused, frightened kid on the cusp of adulthood scarred by living in a family only Oprah could love? Or is he a spoiled, smartmouthed brat who uses the hypocrisy of the people around him as an excuse for his own refusal to make the slightest effort toward accommodating others?

But who said he can't be both?

Writer-director Burr Steers recognizes that the two options are not mutually exclusive, and the fact that "Igby Goes Down" allows us to feel both contempt and compassion for the title character makes it a more intriguing film than the standard coming-of-age movie.

It might have been even better if the adults portrayed in the movie didn't skate on the thin edge of caricature, but they retain just enough humanity (even if it lies frozen in their souls) to keep us interested. Everyone in the movie is damaged in some way, and each damages others in the process.

Igby's father, Jason (Bill Pullman), is a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown as the film opens. It's easy to see why -- Igby's mother, Mimi (Susan Sarandon), is a dragon whose chief concern about Igby getting thrown out of multiple private schools is how it reflects on her. His brother, Oliver (Ryan Phillippe), has learned to cope by joining the enemy -- he's an eager future capitalist at Columbia University.

They all care mostly about themselves, and Igby is no exception. He gets pummeled at various points of the movie by his mother, his classmates in military school (Mimi's last resort), his rich godfather, D.H. Baines (played by West Homestead native Jeff Goldblum) and his godfather's mistress, Rachel (Amanda Peet). We can't disagree with Oliver when he tells Igby that Gandhi would have punched him out if the two of them spent enough time together.

But Gandhi might also have turned into a cynical lout if he'd spent enough time under Mimi's thumb or watched the oily D.H. strutting around in a constant state of self-satisfaction. Filmmaker Steers feeds Igby some deliciously sarcastic putdown lines about this crowd of creeps.

We might wish someone credible would tell him off, too, but the only likely candidate, a pretty blonde improbably named Sookie Sapperstein (Claire Danes), becomes his girlfriend.

But Igby goes down far enough to get his comeuppance, and darned if I didn't feel sorry for the little shyster. Credit goes largely to Culkin, by far the most talented sibling from his own dysfunctional acting brood -- maybe he could appreciate what Igby went through at home. He lets us see the vulnerability beneath Igby's obnoxiousness, especially in one bravura scene late in the film in which he pounds on someone's door.

But Steers, an occasional actor and the nephew of author Gore Vidal, displays a vivid voice as well, finding an edgy rhythm right from the start and punctuating it with an unerring ear for the right music at the right time on the soundtrack.

"Igby" may not go down altogether smoothly, but it delivers a sharp tang.


Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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