Igby Goes Down

Igby Goes Down

I’m all over the board on Igby Goes Down. I sort of liked it but am having trouble articulating why, and I sort of disliked it and am having trouble articulating why.

Though it has an indie feel with its bizarre characters and the bizarre situations it puts them in, I would think it’s at least a medium budget film due to its polished presentation and name actors.

Every review or description of the movie that I read before seeing it said it was like a movie version of The Catcher in the Rye. (One of my favorite books by the way.) So I suppose we can start there.

I understand the comparison in general terms, but I also see plenty of important differences. The main character is indeed a wealthy, Yankee elite, disaffected youth, prone to getting kicked out of schools, and sure that there’s something very, very wrong with the world (or at least the corner of it that he inhabits), who flees to the city and has various adventures.

But as far as differences, Igby Goes Down is much more of a black comedy, with much of its cast presented as caricatures for humorous purposes. And the vast majority of them are very unappealing, led by an over-the-top performance by Susan Sarandon as the grotesque mother.

There is a warmth to Holden Caulfield and a warmth to his relationship with his family and some of the other characters. They’re flawed, and the compromises the older ones have made to attain adulthood disappoint Holden (arguably justifiably), but however bad “the world” is in his eyes, he doesn’t seem to be really bitter toward these individuals in his life. Nor is the reader encouraged to condemn them.

Whereas Igby is mostly a not very likable guy, and the majority of the people he interacts with are worse. His mother, as mentioned, is a monster. His older brother, and some of the lesser characters, are greedy, amoral snobs accustomed to privilege and having no qualms about doing what it takes to preserve it. They are a greatly exaggerated, satirical version of the more realistic and human characters Holden reacts against as greedy and phony.

Actually the most sympathetic character in Igby’s family is literally insane.

There’s more of a moral intensity about Holden. He doesn’t want to grow up because he rebels against the moral compromises that that seems to entail. Igby’s rebellion overlaps a bit with Holden’s, but it seems to have a lot more of a laziness and self-indulgence to it. He’d rather just not bother with school or a job, support himself by bumming money from people, selling drugs, and finagling ways to keep a roof over his head without paying rent, and spend his time screwing hot girls and getting drunk and high.

I was somewhat interested in the movie throughout, and I chuckled at the cleverness of some of the situations and lines, so I can’t say I didn’t like it. But at the same time, it never really won me over.

I think for me it needed to not go so much in the black comedy direction. The more serious it got, the more it drew me in. When the conflicts were played straight—whether it be the shock of a physical blow, or a confrontation that ends a romantic relationship and shows that a person isn’t what her partner thought she was and needs her to be—I glimpsed what this film could be. In the second half of the movie, when Igby’s cynical, know-it-all style shows more signs of crumbling, and he displays more of a Holden-like emotional vulnerability, I liked him, and the film, more.

So, I’m still on the fence on Igby Goes Down. I’d probably narrowly give it a thumbs up, but I have the sense that this is really just some tinkering away from being a movie that would appeal to me far more.

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