Igby Goes Down (7/10)

 Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley


After a surfeit of films about fathers and sons, finally a film about a mother and her sons. In Igby Goes Down the characters are trapped in an existentialist nightmare.  This is a funny, affecting film that turns into a heavy drama of moral ambiguity.  Mimi (a persuasive Susan Sarandon) is a domineering and dominating mother of two sons, sensitive and floundering 17 year-old Igby (Kieran Culkin, in a magnificent performance), and Oliver (Ryan Phillipe), his older brother, who appears to be a cold, supercilious, unsympathetic imitation of Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) from Family Ties.

 Igby, on the other hand, is a high-IQ mess.  When he was ten years old his schizophrenic father (Bill Pulman) emotionally imploded before his very eyes. His mother never touches him or expresses any affection.  Finally, he’s constantly compared with his overachieving brother.  As a result, he feels confused, abandoned, and alone. Despite his high IQ he gets kicked out of one high school after another. His only emotion seems to be an all-consuming hatred of Mimi.  He runs away to flounder in midtown Manhattan apart from his mother. 

 Igby becomes involved with two older women, Sookie (Clare Danes) and Rachel (Amanda Peet).  Making matters worse, Rachel is being kept by Igby’s godfather, D.H. (Jeff Goldblum).  Thrown into the mix is Russel (Jared Harris, in a compelling rendition), a “performance artist” of nebulous sexual orientation who seems to have some sort of relationship with Rachel, also.

 Mimi has problems of her own, other than trying to control Igby. Although the film is about Igby, Mimi dominates the story.  Even though she’s off screen most of the time, every scene is influenced by her.

 Written and directed by Burr Steers in an impressive debut, this is a film of eclectic emotions with snappy, funny dialogue that slowly transitions into the very serious.  By the end of the movie you’re involved in a story with depth that raises moral and ethical questions that the film doesn’t presume to resolve.  These are people who ignore the normal moral values of society and live according to their own brands of hedonism, none of which seems to bring any pleasure to any of the characters.

 Igby Goes Down carries you through a torrent of feelings, from laughter to poignancy, and forces you to question values.  It’s a roller-coaster affair that raises emotionally affecting issues, an entertaining, stimulating film.

 The End