| 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
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
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.