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Igby Goes Down (R)
United Artists
Official Site
Director: Burr Steers
Producers: Lisa Tornell, Marco Weber
Written by: Burr Steers
Cast: Kieran Culkin, Ryan Phillippe, Susan Sarandon, Jeff Goldblum, Amanda Peet, Claire Danes, Bill Pullman

Rating: out of 5

Igby Slocumb’s (Culkin) lanky figure sits draped across a booth in a dingy New York diner, his blandly handsome face registering the kind of disenchantment known only to the ennui-afflicted elite. “I’m drowning in assholes,” he tells his close friend Sookie Sapperstein (Danes), referring to the insular society he shares with his plutocrat brother Ollie (Phillippe), his womanizing godfather D.H. (Goldblum), and his self-absorbed mother, Mimi (Sarandon).

Of course, Igby—too preoccupied with the cultivation of his hobo-chic image—misses a very crucial point: He himself is an asshole, a person so wrapped up in his own mess of a life that even the beautiful oddballs who surround him barely register on his radar.

Igby is precisely the kind of asshole the literati love, a Salinger-esque anti-hero who avoids confronting his own flaws by pointing out everyone else’s. In fact, Igby Goes Down could easily be titled Catcher in the Rye, if only Igby possessed enough energy to undertake such an athletic endeavor.

The majority of the film is composed of Igby wandering the streets of Manhattan, on the lam from his latest prep school, carefully avoiding any meaningful interaction with his colorful, but rather uncaring, family. Director Burr Steers very obviously draws on the eccentricity of recent films like The Royal Tenenbaums, while also adding a dash of the hate-filled dysfunction exhibited in dramas like Pinter’s The Homecoming. The result is a coming-of-age drama that never smacks of the saccharine aftertaste present in many family-centric dramadies. For better or worse, there’s no love lost in Igby.

The film opens with Igby and Ollie, cloaked in their high-society threads, closely monitoring the shallow breathing of their mother. They’re not observing her with concern, instead anxiously anticipating the second when she takes her final breath. What has brought them to this moment—both physically and emotionally—is the narrative glue of the film, established by flashbacks of Igby’s childhood and the more recent events that provoke his animosity toward his mother.

Our hero’s disillusionment is a direct result of his father’s (Pullman) breakdown, a violent parting with reality young Igby witnesses. His father, he says, felt crushed by the weight of life. It’s one reason why Igby consciously allows life to roll off his back; if he takes nothing seriously, his existence remains feather-light.

His flippant attitude irritates his image-conscious mother. “Did you even think about how this would reflect on me?” she pointedly asks her son, after he has once again been kicked out of an expensive prep school. “No,” he answers with the kind of casual honesty typically reserved for far less menacing questions.

In retaliation, Igby’s mother ships him off to military school, which he suffers through mostly because his godfather bribes him with a summer in the Hamptons. It’s there he meets D.H.’s beautiful, heroin-addicted mistress Rachel (Peet), as well as Sookie, a pseudo-Bohemian JAP who reluctantly gives in to Igby’s disaffected charms. Determined to liberate himself from the military school’s rigid rules, Igby goes downtown, concealing himself within the urban maze of Manhattan.

Igby is a resilient victim of the world he inhabits, both figuratively and literally beaten down by the people he (sort of) trusts. His dream is to fly to Los Angeles, a sun-soaked city that stands as the antithesis of his East Coast breeding. In any other film, Igby would discover a lot about himself through his misadventures—or at the very least, that you can travel 3,000 miles and still stay where you are.

But in his desire to paint his main character as the product of shallow pseudo-intellectualism, Steers has Igby learn nothing at all. He’s a shadow of a person, with no attachment to family, friends, or any specific location. Of course, Igby Goes Down isn’t as concerned with delivering a message so much as delivering laughs. By avoiding a cliché, love-soaked conclusion, it establishes one of the funniest and most disillusioned familial landscapes in a very long time.

—Erin Steele


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