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MGM Studios DVD presents
Igby Goes Down (2002)

Sookie: You call your mother 'Mimi?'
Igby: Well, 'Heinous One' is a bit cumbersome.

- Claire Danes, Kieran Culkin

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: February 02, 2003

Stars: Kieran Culkin
Other Stars: Claire Danes, Susan Sarandon, Jeff Goldblum, Amanda Peet, Ryan Phillippe, Bill Pullman
Director: Burr Steers

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexuality, and drug content
Run Time: 01h:38m:00s
Release Date: February 04, 2003
UPC: 027616882288
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-B+B B-

DVD Review

Igby Goes Down is part of a long literary tradition, one of many stories about a disaffected youth who learns the harsh nature of the real world: that people are often cold, and are phony and fragile and easily broken, and that, for the most part, no one seems to give a damn about anyone else. It's a familiar message, sort of post-modern ironic depression. The risk in making a movie like this is that the characters will all play as grotesque caricatures, bitter and unlikable. The marvelous thing about Igby from writer/director Burr Steers, is that even the most petty and conniving of them remain sympathetic, multilayered and real, even when, say, smothering someone with a plastic bag. But I get ahead of myself.

In some ways, it feels like the typical disaffected rich boy story. Jason "Igby" Slocum (Kieran Culkin) is a product of a supremely dysfunctional family: his mother Mimi (Susan Sarandon), an unaffectionate perfectionist; his father Jason (Bill Pullman), in an institution after a schizophrenic breakdown; and his brother Oliver (Ryan Phillippe), a disaffected sadist. Igby delights in doing everything he can to piss off his mother (including getting himself kicked out of every private school in the state), and Mimi retaliates by sticking him in military school, which prompts him to run away to New York to live with his godfather, D.H. (Jeff Goldblum), who renovates condos, the decorators providing him with a steady stream of mistresses.

Igby soon meets Rachel (Amanda Peet), who is sleeping with D.H. because she believes he actually loves her, and the two become close, sharing as they do a general disdain for the world at large. She introduces him to Sookie (Claire Danes), and the two begin a relationship, though she seems to see him more as an amusement than as a romantic equal. Eventually, Igby has slept with both women, and finds that sex is regarded by most as a consolation, yet another diversion.

The plot has a lot to do with who is sleeping with whom and who knows about it. Oliver tracks down Igby in New York and Sookie is drawn to his maturity and seditious wit. Slick, charming socialite D.H. reveals his darker side when he begins to suspect that Rachel is playing around behind his back. There are a few fairly tame sex scenes, but it isn't a heightened movie sex; it's fumbling, brief, and unattractive, just like real life. Witness the scene of Igby walking in on D.H., sitting with his pants around his ankles, drinking a martini while Rachel cleans up—not exactly what I'd call erotic.

Movies like this have less to do with narrative and more to do with the journey (Burrs capitalizes on this fact by starting the movies where it ends, and working his way back around), and to be effective, subtle shading is required from the actors. Culkin is particularly good, hitting just the right mix of irony, self-pity, and genuine discontent (his younger brother Rory plays the young Igby). Sarandon comes perilously close to playing a sit-com exaggeration, but Steer's script makes the character more. Danes, Phillippe, and particularly Goldblum contribute layered supporting performances that ground the somewhat convoluted plot with characters that aren't exactly natural, but genuine all the same.

Lest you think that Igby is a morose, depressing coming-of-age, I must mention the comedy. Steers doesn't write jokes, per se, or set up contrived humorous situations. The laughs are all in the dialogue. The characters are all in on the joke, providing their lives with ironic commentary, which means we are never laughing at them (which was one of the weaknesses of the Holden Caulfield character in The Good Girl—his utter sincerity). Steers proves himself just as able a director, never losing sight of his characters amid the chaotic plot, and never favoring humor over heart. It's interesting to watch the scenes that bookend the movie, to see them again after following Igby around for a while, finding he's not quite the disaffected, selfish malcontent both he (and the audience) had first believed.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Igby Goes Down looks fairly good on DVD, rarely betraying its low-budget roots. Colors look crisp and natural, and the image is very sharp with good detail. Some shots (particularly the pans across the city skyline) exhibit a bit of aliasing, but it's a minor distraction at most.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 English track supports the film fairly well. Dialogue is anchored in the center channel and comes across crisply and cleanly. The front soundstage is filled out mostly by the score and the pop songs on the soundtrack—there are very few sound effects other than simple ambient noise. That said, the songs do benefit from the surround mix, even featuring a bit of LFE. Surrounds are used mostly to enhance atmosphere with ambient noise, but it's not like the film demands much more than that.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Thelma and Louise, The Usual Suspects
9 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Burr Steers, actor Kieran Culkin
Packaging: Scanavo
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: Igby isn't billed as a special edition, but it comes packaged with some fairly decent extras. I'd hoped that the commentary from director Burr Steers and actor Kieran Culkin might shed a little bit of light on what the movie was supposed to mean and what the characters are all about, but Steers seems reluctant to tell people what they were supposed to have gotten out of it. It's an entertaining listen regardless, as the two have fun joking around about what's happening on screen and sharing production anecdotes. Steers also talks quite a bit about the long process of getting the movie produced and the cast assembled.

In Search of Igby is a 16-minute featurette that is the indie-movie version of the typical PR featurette. Instead of the cast sitting around talking about their characters, they sit around and talk about each other, and how genius they all are, and how the script was so good, they would have done anything to be in it (Amanda Peet would have "played a waitress, but don't tell Burr."). It's not boring, and there is some nice on-set footage but, like the commentary, it isn't very revealing.

Ten minutes of deleted scenes are included with optional commentary from the director. Several offer additional backstory for Bill Pullman's character, while others were cut because they took the focus off of Igby. Steers ably explains his reasons for cutting the material, offering more commentary on the characters and the story than he did in his comments for the feature.

Also included is the trailer, a photo gallery, and clips for the special edition DVDs of Thelma and Louise and The Usual Suspects.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Igby Goes Down is a surprisingly heartfelt, acerbic black comedy in which a disillusioned and unlikable young man learns that the world sucks and that people are fake, yet somehow, he winds up a better person for having done so. It's a fine entry in the Holden Caulfield genre, and one that holds up far better than the recent Tadpole and stands on even ground with the excellent The Good Girl, and the DVD is similarly impressive.


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