Igby Goes Down
*** GM
Starring: Kieran Culkin, Susan Sarandon, Claire Danes, Amanda Peet, Jeff Goldblum, Ryan Phillippe, Jared Harris


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Precocious smarter-than-thou wayward teen struggles to rebel against his oppressive, right-wing, propriety-obsessed family. Anyone else seen this before?

I suppose fighting against strict authority figures will always be a major theme for humanity, save for maybe Eminem's kid (wouldn't it be great if she pulled an Alex P. Keaton on him and helped Tipper Gore try to get him censored? Comedy!), and this film takes it on reasonably well, but I still didn't really feel like I was watching anything new.

The story is thus: Igby (Culkin) is a teenager that gets kicked out of every school his upper-crust mother (Sarandon) puts him into, which is also much to the chagrin of his young Republican older brother Oliver (Phillippe), so he is sent to a military school for crimes he committed. This kid promptly escapes from a minimum security stockade and escapes to the New York underground. Today, still wanted by his family, he survives as a soldier of fortune. If you have a problem... if no one else can help... and if you can find him, maybe you can hire, The Ig-Team. The Ig-Team consists of Igby's godfather D.H. (Goldblum) and his smack-addict mistress (Peet), her performance artist boyfriend (Harris) and the hardly convincing love interest Sookie (Danes). He bounces around with these people and tries to avoid being rounded up by his mom and shipped off somewhere else... that is, until he discovers his mom is dying. Oh, and by the way, his father (Pullman) is clinically insane.

This is a dark comedy, I suppose, and there are moments where the dialog crackles with an "Ooh, this screenwriter is trying to be clever and biting" energy and, to his credit, Writer/Director Burr Steers manages to succeed from time to time. More often, though, it seems like a patchwork of 'wouldn't this be cool movie dialog' conversations from 3AM dinners at Denny's. Jeff Goldblum, however, is the man that steals the comedy show, as he's given some really funny bits and brings them on home excellently. Culkin also has some really good, intense moments and seems to have a firm grasp on the intellectual teen rebel based on this and his good performance in The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys. Another good thing is that they never portray Igby as being righteous and just - he's actually just confused and lost, and he only knows his mom's way is not the right way. Harris is also worth mentioning in the Department of Amusement, and, as usual, Sarandon has her part nailed. Pullman's performance, on his way to a breakdown that Igby witnesses and has his life shaped by, packs a punch as well.

On the downside, nothing really seems fresh and sometimes it's not even realistic, in the case of Sookie's relationship with Igby. Claire Danes, while gosh-durn-purty and down-to-earth enough for Igby to form a tearful door-pounding dependency on, is seemingly going for a sort of mysterious detachment which doesn't really translate into a believable interest in Igby and especially not in Oliver, who's creepy come-on attempts just scream 'disgusting smarm.' Yeah, she's supposed to be 'Bohemian,' but never you mind. I suppose this teaches us that anyone as dreamy as Fill-Lip-Pee can get any woman he wants at any time, no matter how nauseatingly forced his wooing method is. Fil-Lipp-E just isn't much good. For some reason, I kinda want to like him, but he's just kinda robotic here - although maybe that's how he plays 'repressed.'

Still, it's an enjoyable film, filled with some really good bits and some well done characters - it's just been done a few too many times and doesn't quite come across with the strength it needs.

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