Main cast: Kieran Culkin (Igby), Claire Danes (Sookie), Jeff Goldblum (DH), Jared Harris (Russel), Amanda Peet (Rachel), Ryan Phillippe (Oliver), Susan Sarandon (Mimi), and Bill Pullman (Jason)
Director: Burr Steers
There’s something deliciously ironic about middle- to upper-class American directors making movies about how life sucks. There are maestros of humiliation and embarrassment like Todd Solondz, whose single repertoire seems to be showing how many ways his characters can be made to endure demeaning situations. Then there are low-lives like Larry Clark who peddles smut and soft porn marketed as indie “honest” art.
To the really jaded crowd who have reached a stage of conformity against the establishment that they have saturated all avenues of “honest” film watching experience that they actually have to turn to smut to be entertained, these filmmakers are heroes. It is so tragic when the irony-hip crowd loses all sense of irony altogether.
Burr Steers is the latest to try to sell his so-called art to the ennui-ridden jaded crowd of movie critics and arthouse groupies. Igby Goes Down, his debut film, is carefully calculated to appeal to the conformists united in the herd against what they perceive as modern mainstream cinema.
Igby is a 17-year old boy who is a spoiled brat. Movie critics call him an angry young man. I call this spoiled, upper-class snivelling over privileged brat who keeps whining that his life isn’t perfect what I see him as: a spoiled brat. He has a brother, Oliver, who washes his hands off Igby (“Mother, Igby is not my fault.”). The mother, Mimi, is a control freak who cares only about her image.
This movie is basically one summer in Igby’s life. His losses, his life crumbling down, and his coming of age. Only in this case, coming of age means acting like a spoiled brat through the end and begging me to give him a free pass because he saw his father weep and kill himself. If letting yourself become a victim is what we call “honesty” nowadays, I suggest we just hoard all these moviemakers and movie critics into a bus to a remote desert island where they can kill each other in honest, joyous self-loathing.
What saves this movie is the amazing cast. Kieran Culkin is definitely well-cast as Igby, he’s not only weaselly enough, looks-wise, he also has the whole nuances of a spoiled, supremely self-absorbed brat down pat. Yes at the same time, he provides the humanity in Igby where the script fails. In a very contrived scene where he weeps and apologizes to Mimi long after his words no longer mattered, Culkin’s restrained performance makes me choke inside for him. But at the same time, everyone else in this movie is more interesting than Igby. Oliver, the control freak whose inner demons are much more engaging than Igby’s contrived brat against the world angst. Amanda Peet’s Rachel who whores herself for respectability and self-respect, a doomed exercise indeed. Even Mimi, the mother who wants to control every fine details in her life, is more interesting than Igby.
Incidentally, the director, who also wrote the movie, knows jack crap on writing women. Sookie, supposedly Igby’s conscience, is a mess of contradictions, and it doesn’t help that Claire Danes plays her like some robotic prop the production crew fished from the garbage dump.
Just once, I’d like someone to call Igby on his crap.
While it is satisfying to see Igby’s house of cards come crumbling down, it is also a letdown to see the movie let him get off the hook so easily. Sure, you could say that a 17-year old boy needs time and space to grow up. But I’ll say this: an upper-class white boy who lives in a big, well-furnished house and who gets sent to all the best schools only to keep fucking up because he’s just like that – should I feel sorry for this guy?
Igby may grow up one day. Maybe. But I better hope Burr Steers grow up in his next movie and presents a less obvious wannabe of a movie that tries so hard to fit into the sterile landscape of postmodern conformity against the establishment shitey arthouse movies. Since when did indie movies become this dull and conformist?