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Igby Goes Down (September 27/02)

There's just something about over-privileged rich kids that's off-putting. Most likely it's the fact that they've got all this money, tons of connections (business and otherwise), yet they always seem to have something to complain about. The title character in Igby Goes Down, the son of two incredibly rich people, spends virtually the entire movie making smart-ass comments and pompous observations. He's not a compelling character, a problem exacerbated by the pretentious screenplay.

Kieran Culkin stars as Igby, and the film opens with him and his brother Oliver (Ryan Phillippe) murdering their mother (Susan Sarandon). But as we soon discover, that's just a framing device and the film quickly begins introducing the multitude of characters. Igby's not exactly on good terms with his mother, especially considering the number of high-profile schools he's been kicked out of, so he jumps at the chance to work for a family friend named D.H. (Jeff Goldblum). He meets D.H.'s mistress (Amanda Peet) and her performance artist boyfriend (Jared Harris) while overhauling an apartment. But it isn't until he goes to an exclusive party that he runs into Sookie Sapperstein (Claire Danes), a young woman he finds himself drawn to. The two are soon lovers, but that doesn't stop his brother from pursuing Sookie anyway.

There's not much of a plot in Igby Goes Down, and that's really its undoing. None of these characters are particularly compelling (though "Sookie Sapperstein" is probably one of the best movie names to come around in a good long while), which causes certain sections of the film to become somewhat arduous. The real problem is that these characters talk the way a screenwriter assumes rich folks talk, spouting inane references and witty off-the-cuff remarks. But a lot of the conversations play like sitcom fodder, with characters setting up punchlines and entering scenes at just the right moment.

But, at the very least, the film is exceptionally well acted, with a completely eye-opening performance by Culkin. He proves himself to be a fine leading-man type, easily keeping up with old pros like Sarandon and Goldblum. Writer/director Burr Steers has filled his movie with familiar faces, but nobody here is just for shock value. Goldblum, in particular, seems to be having a great time playing this relatively sleazy guy. And along with Culkin, Danes does a superb job of inhabiting this girl who's not quite as rich as everyone else. She doesn't act much these days, but Igby Goes Down demonstrates that she certainly should.

It's a shame, then, that the movie isn't nearly up to the level of its actors. It's not difficult to see why such a script would attract so many well-known performers, with quirky characters and biting dialogue, but without a cohesive plot, the film plays like a series of vignettes that aren't particularly interesting.

out of

© David Nusair