A couple of weeks ago, I viewed "Tadpole", an indie coming-of-age picture about an intelligent, wealthy prep-school kid who found himself falling for his stepmother. I wasn't too thrilled with the film and, after watching "Igby Goes Down" - which doesn't offer nearly as bratty a main character or one obsessed with his stepmother - the other film pales in comparison. A more polished effort both in technical and writing terms, "Igby" stars Kieran Culkin (also good last year in "Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys") as 'Igby' Slocumb, a troubled but intelligent student who, early in the film, gets out of military school, which is where he ended up after being booted out of another private school.
Igby certainly hasn't had the most ideal childhood. His mother, Mimi (Susan Sarandon) is more concerned about herself than anyone else and any trouble that Igby causes essentially causes her to have a meltdown. His father, Jason (Bill Pullman) had a breakdown when Igby was younger and now spends his days in a mental institution. His young Republican brother, Oliver (Ryan Phillippe) doesn't want anything to do with his brother and distances himself from any problems Igby starts. The only source of kindness in his life is his wealthy godfather, D.H. Baines (Jeff Goldblum), who puts Igby to work and gives him a place to live (read: hide out from his mother) for a while, until he can figure out what he wants to do with his life.
Soon enough, Igby has gotten much more friendly with his godfather's artist mistress, Rachel (Amanda Peet). Eventually, he gains an older girlfriend of his own, Sookie Sapperstein (Claire Danes), a student at one of the local colleges. The film doesn't really have much in the way of plot, but it still manages to work wonderfully due to the superb writing, fresh characters that feel real and energetic presentation and pace. At 97 minutes, the film moves - Wedigo von Schultzendorff's cinematography is beautifully composed and the rock score adds intensity and momentum. Director Burr Steers has timing down to a science, as the actors hit the dialogue perfectly, as the rapid-fire delivery suits the intelligent, witty lines wonderfully.
The performances are uniformly terrific. Sarandon seems to love the opportunity to play evil, while Culkin (with this and "Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys") has clearly shown that he's a more mature actor than his older brother. Peet is playing a more dramatic and darker version of the kind of characters she usually plays, and does it with the kind of skill I'd expect from her, as she's shown in the past how promising she can and will be. Goldblum hasn't been this sharp in ages, while Phillippe's performance as the snotty brother seems like the role that he was born to play. Danes and Pullman are very good in small roles, too.
Smart without hammering it home, "Igby Goes Down" was a real surprise. In 97 minutes, it develops both main and supporting characters superbly and it moves from an often very funny first half to a darker, more somber second half quite well. There's been quite a few films over the past few years about teens facing adulthood and responsibility, but this really turned out to be one of the best. This ground has been covered before, but rarely this successfully.
VIDEO: "Igby Goes Down" is presented by MGM in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is certainly one of the studio's better offerings in recent months, as aside from a few minor faults, the image is generally spotless. Sharpness and detail are solid, if unspectacular, as the picture remained crisp, but didn't really always show fine detail.
The print used seemed to be in excellent condition, aside from a few minor speckles that turned up in a few scenes. Compression artifacts were slight, while edge enhancement did not appear. The film's color palette was generally subdued, although richer colors could occasionally appear. Whatever the tone, the transfer presented the colors accurately and cleanly.
SOUND: "Igby Goes Down" is presented by MGM in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is clearly not a movie where the surrounds need to be terribly active and the soundtrack remains fairly quiet throughout. Surrounds do kick in on occasion with some light ambience and reinforcement of the music, but other than that, the focus is certainly from the front speakers only. Audio quality is fine, as the music and dialogue remained crisp and clear.
EXTRAS: "Igby" contains a commentary from director Burr Steers and actor Kieran Culkin. The commentary is a fun and generally informative affair where the two joke about stories from the set in-between a lot of chat about developing the characters and production issues. While it was enjoyable to hear the two joke about various incidents, I would like to have heard even more about the film's production history.
Other than the commentary, there's not a whole lot else: we get a decent 16-minute featurette that offers a lot of pleasant discussion from cast and crew, a photo gallery, deleted scenes with optional commentary and trailers for "Igby" and the DVD special editions of "The Usual Suspects" and "Thelma and Louise".
Final Thoughts: At times sharply funny and at times powerful and emotional, "Igby Goes Down" is an impressive writing/directing debut from Burr Steers. MGM's DVD edition provides fine audio/video quality and solid supplements. Highly recommended.