Igby Goes Down - Polite Discourse (2002)
I was privileged to see an email from a friend of a friend to a friend of that friend. I do not know the author of the email personally, but it began like this, 'and tonight i saw igby goes down and it's TERRIBLE. stay far, far away. trust me, not (Cold Bacon).' Apparently, I had recommended the film to 'of a friend' based on my initial viewing. The following are selected excerpts from the forwarded email with the appropriate responses.
'the character development is poor/irrational'
The character development was not poor/irrational because there was no character development. The characters were relatively static throughout. They were all of them more caricature than character to be sure. The only character who seemed to change even a little (her increased sense of irony) was the mother but then dying has been described as a life changing experience. I think it's okay for characters to remain undeveloped if the initial version is interesting enough. I was drawn to them, unrealistic as they were. Ryan Phillipe has great on screen charisma. I think his snobbiness was as good as what's her name's in Gosford Park, and I loved him sipping scotch in the middle of the day. And him at twenty-two. Meanwhile, Jeff Goldblum's character was intriguing. Aside from the ascribed goal of making money, his motivation was occasionally as hard to follow as it was to swallow. One could dismiss him as simply a ridiculous caricature, but then so is a Lexus SUV.1 Some things are just meant to be taken with a grain of salt. The Usual Suspects lacked character development, but I suppose it's forgivable in a plot-driven film. You can have a point for this.
'the writing is worse than mediocre'
It will be hard to defend this having seen the film only once and my memory not being a zip drive. I don't remember thinking the writing was that bad. I don't remember thinking it was great either, but if it were 'worse than mediocre,' surely I would have made a note of it. We'll call this a push.
'the plot is totally unrealistic'
I think it's more like a certain someone's expectations are unrealistic. The court will find, however, that the plot is, in fact, unrealistic. Slide one washer to your side.
'this is a case where the swearing actually does degrade language,
like it's actually supposed to be clever or to mean something as opposed to
just being emphatic, which i feel like is almost all swearing can do, but
sometimes that's enough. but not here'
Now slide it fucking back. To deny the poetry potential in swearing would be like denying the poetry in love making. Poetry like, 'fuck me harder' and, 'I want you deep inside me.' There are some things we just need to hear. If all it was was emphasis, we would just say, 'Yes, yes, yes' the whole time. Boring.
'the audience was tittering a lot, but there was only one time i even cracked a smile.'
Oh, let me guess. I have to guess. Was it when the psychiatrist punches him? No? Not funny? And besides, it was the same forced, unrealistic sort of thing he was saying to the priest while he was getting the boot from there. You didn't like the line about Gandhi. You saw it coming, and it too was forced. The line about 'beware of schizophrenia'? Too Rushmore? Okay, okay. Wait. I've got it. Was it when he was phoning up his relatives and saying, 'she'd love to, but…' No? No, I wasn't sure.
'and the movie thinks it's smart, and it's so not.'
'it's grasping onto catcher in the rye/wes anderson but it's so
shallow and soulless.'
I will read 'Catcher in the entirety' some day and get back to you. I agree Igby follows in the Rushmore vein, but is a somewhat less genuine offering. The kid is neither sympathetic nor three dimensional as was the kid in Rushmore. And neither is he as clever, nor are his utterances. But I suspect that's not what the film is about. I honestly hope Burr Steers is not trying to sell us this kid as a clever little urchin, to be quoted later. 'You were in the shit?' 'No, I was in the shit.' 'When did the shit take place?' No, the film is about all the characters, their predicaments, however silly and unrealistic they are.
Your visceral reaction to Igby would be justified if the film were the Pulp Fiction of the teenage angst/ennui genre (Rushmore, Ghost World, Tadpole). But no one has taken it as seriously. Pulp Fiction came along and promised paradoxical honesty through intense stylization and caricaturization. It flaunted its superficially clever, quasi-poetic dialogue in the face of bullets. Only later would the deliverance on that promise come later to be questioned.2 I think the key point to remember is just how long it actually did take people to realize Tarantino really wasn't the next Kurosawa—which was basically until his next film. Igby is a flashy facade of a great movie with a debatable amount of substance underneath. Whether Pulp Fiction has gotten what it deserved I leave for another day. But it was made by a guy who was obviously bursting with cinema, practically foaming at the mouth with it. They couldn't make enough 'A' movies for Quentin Tarantino, so he had to watch 'B' movies too. And he loved them all. I suspect Burr Steers is probably bursting with cinema too. He just needs someone else to write a really good screenplay for him.
If we look at Igby, we see many bits of other movies. It doesn't matter to me whether you call them tributes or theft. The scene where he walks through the party in the Hamptons was surely a tribute to The Graduate. The love/power triangle is modeled on the Uma, Travolta, Marsellus triangle in Pulp Fiction (see other review). The deviant, wealthy, and don't let's forget funny-looking son, a la Harold and Maude, was in full effect. The relationship with his mother seemed to be informed by The 400 Blows. I suppose you might have thought the schizophrenia was one major plot element too many or simply overdone. I would, however, save that criticism for American Beauty whose overdoneness to this day has still not been sufficiently publicized. But you would have to be a real hardshell not to be moved by the father-son thing going on here. You probably came out of The Bicycle Thief saying "Why didn't he turn left? He could've gotten away. He should have turned left. Idiot." That's all I have.
1 I'm just kidding. Lexus SUV's are great.
2 Editor's Note: I know there's no point in saying this, because you're a fuck and you won't change it. But that was an incredibly fucked up sentence. If that's your alternative, I'm not so sure Tarantino's such a—okay, I'm just playing.
Igby Goes Down