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Igby Goes Down and The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

Somehow this week I ended up seeing two independent movies starring Kieran Culkin as a troubled rebel kid in a private school uniform. That’s just the way life is sometimes, I guess.

You know my theory about Culkins. They squirt ’em out on a conveyor belt somewhere and sell ’em cheap to filmatists. I’m not sure they even have separate identities, they probaly just call them “Rory” when they’re young and “Kieran” when they’re a teen and “Macaulay” when they quit acting and start going to clubs. If you buy the media hype about them being actual kids, then Kieran must be the most successful of the group because he’s doing legitmate acting roles and he must be 16 or so.

The Dangerous Lives of Altar BoysAnyway the weaker of the two new “Kieran” pictures I saw was THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS. This one’s coming soon to video and it stars Kieran and a couple other kids as, you know, altar boys. The gimmick is that even though they go to a religious private school they say fuck alot and smoke and drink and have sex and are always planning some elaborate prank. Their dream throughout the movie is to build a pully system which they will use to steal a cougar from the zoo and transport it to their school.

Let me repeat that though. They smoke and they fuck but they’re ALTAR BOYS. See, it’s the juxtaposition. WHO KNEW this kind of shit was goin’ on, man. This one is gonna blow the lid offa organized religion, in my opinion.

No, I’m just jerkin your chain. It’s not a terrible movie, it’s just one of those pictures that you’d probaly enjoy if you were 12 or 13. But if you’re like me, you’re not 12 or 13. It’s a more obvious and cartoony STAND BY ME. Speaking of cartoony, the other gimmick is that these kids like to draw themselves as obscene super heroes like “captain asskicker” who literally “kicks the shit” out of his opponents. Together they battle an evil nun based on their teacher, Sister Assumpta, played by Jodie Foster.

Oh yeah, I didn’t mention Jodie Foster. She’s the producer, this was a pet project of hers so she gave herself a boring role where she doesn’t get to do much, to show she’s humble. The most dynamic thing about the character is that she starts out with a strong Irish accent in her first scene and then never uses it again. Vincent D’Onofrio is likable as the Father/soccer coach she works with but he doesn’t get the accent to play around with. Poor guy.

Anyway, they do this comic book and what the filmatists decided to do was to include many animated segments of their adventures. So they went to the #1 expert in the field of moronic juvenile super hero garbage, Todd McFarland. He is the guy who created SPAWN, that horrible movie and cartoon show that was on HBO, where he comes out at the beginning and introduces it in person. Man, I would’ve hid in the back if I was reponsible for that piece of shit.

The animation doesn’t seem like a bad idea for conveying the kids’ fantasy life but I think the trouble is that the “reality” of the characters is a total fantasy anyway. Every kid WISHES they knew an abandoned house where they could spend all day away from their parents, get laid, drink booze, smoke cigarattes and use an elaborate pulley system to steal a statue from their school. But no kid ever comes even remotely close to pulling off any single element of that dream, unless maybe they got to touch a girl’s boob once, I don’t know. The point is this is obviously a movie that you’re supposed to be able to relate to your own childhood but it sure don’t remind me too much of mine. I don’t know about you. They might as well figure out how to build jetpacks and it will be equally universal.

Anyway not to give anything away but Kieran gets mauled by a cougar at the end. That was the most exciting part, in my opinion. Didn’t his “brother” Macaulay get killed in a bee attack in one of his movies? The freak animal attack fatality is an interesting motif. I think maybe the animals can sense that the Culkins are not real, and they must instinctively attack them, destroy them and devour their clockwork innards, to become more powerful and some day control all of the food.

Igby Goes DownOn the other hand I kind of liked IGBY GOES DOWN, which surprised me. And there isn’t even an animal attack, as far as I remember. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen that Claire Danes says “What kind of a name is Igby” and the kid says “It’s the kind of name that someone named ‘Sukie’ can’t criticize.” Well I’m sorry son but that’s avoiding the question. The answer is that “Igby” is a cute name that some 32 year old first time novelist gives his character as a way of showing he is eccentric and interesting, and later there will be a cute story to explain the circumstances that caused the character to be named that. Every fuckin novel they gotta have these interesting names. They can’t just be named (insert your name) or Vern, like you or I. No, they gotta be named Igby and Sukie. To my surprise this is actually an original screenplay, it is not a quirky independent movie based on a quirky novel, like that movie FREAK THE MIGHTY starring some other Culkin and various other cute names.

For the record though, eccentrics do not have goofy names, that’s what they call “on the nose.” Michael Jackson’s name isn’t Pixielegs Froggildoodle, is it? No, it’s just “Michael Jackson.” If you have a goofy name either your parents were hippies, you’re trying too hard, or you’re an anti-hero in a John Carpenter movie.

IGBY GOES DOWN has a couple of these type of annoying traits early on, so I thought I was gonna hate it. In the opening scene we see that Susan Sarandon is the crazy rich bitch mother of “Kieran” and Ryan Phillipe (reprising his role from CRUEL INTENTIONS, I think). We learn that she pops all kinds of pills (can you believe it!) and this makes it harder for them to poison her, so they have to suffocate her with a bag. And I mean they’re sitting there in their suits and ties, and they’re killing their own mother and they make little wry comments and the music is saying “this part is funny.” You feel like the filmatists are nudging you with a big grin on their faces saying “How delightfully wicked, huh? Don’t you think it’s deliciously macabre?”

And then of course we go back in time to find out what will lead to this incident. Igby’s getting bad grades and gets kicked out of private school and instead of worrying about him, mom says “Do you even for one moment stop to think about how this makes me look?” We know this how rich moms are, worrying about their own image, because we’ve seen it in movies. What we have in store for us, obviously, is one of your “rich kid acts outrageously in school to rebel against his cruel parents” stories. So my knee jerk reaction was “I can’t feel sorry for this little prick in the Henry Porter scarf.” The idea of these movies is “just because you have alot of money doesn’t mean you’re happy.” And it’s true, but it doesn’t take into account “just because you’re not happy, doesn’t mean you’re less happy than people who don’t even have any fucking food.” Write a movie about that, asshole.

That said, I quickly became interested in these characters and their pathetic troubles. Igby hates his mom and his brother. His father is in a mental hospital, and is seen in a few brief scenes played by Bill Pullman, who happens to be the exact right actor to have a breakdown in the shower wearing clothes, walk right through the shower door and lay on the floor bloody and smiling at his son like “Can you believe this shit?”

Jeff Goldblum is kind of likable and real sleazy as Igby’s suspiciously interested godfather. Through his world Igby gets hooked up with Clair Danes as Sukie (a nice older girl who somehow ends up fuckin a Culkin) and Amanda Peet (an even older one). Claire Danes is always good but the surprise is Peet, who we all know from the trailers to various movies about the outrageous lives of single people in the ’90s or whatever decade this is. She’s pathetic as a slowly unraveling dancer/nympho/addict who makes you shake your head sadly and try to avoid eye contact, like a real junkie does. It’s a sad portrait of a desperate world, where every single major character is having sex with more than one person but few of them seem to be enjoying it.

Also of note, this is the first movie I know of to use a younger Culkin (“Rory”) playing the younger version of the older Culkin. It’s always funny when they try to fake something like that, like when someone was in movies as a kid but then they have a kid playing the younger version of them when they’re grown up, and the younger version doesn’t look like the real life younger version that we’re all familiar with. It’s too confusing for me. But here, they just got “Rory” to do it.

I’m not sure I’d recommend this movie to most of my readers, I don’t think it is particularly original and it is ultimately very bitter and depressing with little redemption. But it has a couple funny lines, the opening scene turns out to be not quite what I thought it was and the emotional journey to me seems sincere.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 5th, 2003 at 6:38 pm and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “Igby Goes Down and The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys”

  1. “That said…” is the only thing I don’t like about your writing. I’ve noticed it in some of your other reviews. It is pretentious. You’re better than that.

  2. Not sure what makes “That said” pretentious, it’s a turn of phrase designed to acknowledge the information that came before it and introduce a different and possibly contradictory idea. It’s just a bridge. Pretentious is a mechanic wearing a monocle and a tuxedo, trying to pass himself off as a successful banker.

  3. i believe very recently vern even commented on his own usage of “that said,” alluding to having inadvertantly aped harry knowles (just in that one instance, not in general), who overuses that phrase to the point of self-parody (including times when it is not appropriate/makes no sense). of course, harry knowles ain’t gonna be winning any awards for his writing. i often have to give up part way through his articles b/c either they are just so annoying to read, or i am struggling too much to try to figure out what the hell he is TRYING to say. in any case, if harry knowles is using a phrase often, it’s hard to see how it could be pretentious. folksy, maybe.

  4. I don’t think I use that two-word combo very often, but I’m not sure what’s wrong with it. If it turns out there really is something pretentious about it I would argue that it’s balanced out by the part where I talk about cougars eating the clockwork innards of the Culkin kids and/or the part where I explain that Michael Jackson is not named “Pixielegs Frogildoodle.”

    In fact what this is is a transparent ploy to discredit my theory about the true origins of the Culkins. Obviously I’m getting too close to the truth and somebody wants to shut me up.

    That said, I think Harry has started to purposely overuse “that said” just to rile up the talkbackers. Or at least I hope that’s what’s going on.

  5. He does do it now to rile them up. Sometimes using the phrase 3 times in one paragraph. And they take the bait everytime. That said, if you read Harry you just have to roll with his bizarre sentences.

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