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Igby Goes Down

A rebellious 17-year-old desperately tries to break away from the stifling world of money and hypocrisy in which he's been brought up.


This isn't exactly an original story. Films about highly dysfunctional families with rebellious teenagers have been done before. What makes Igby Goes Down rise above the rest is the presentation. The dialogue is incredibly crisp (hilarious one moment, scathing the next), making the film a pure pleasure to listen to. Igby tells the story of 17-year-old Jason ''Igby'' Slocumb Jr. (Kieran Culkin), a perceptive yet sarcastic fellow who has been born into a world of privilege and wealth--as well as to a family full of nutcases. Hateful mom Mimi (Susan Sarandon) is self-absorbed, a world-class pill popper who's fed up with trying to control Igby. Older brother Oliver (Ryan Phillippe) is the model son who is more like a shark in preppy clothes. Ollie wants to become exactly like family friend and Igby's godfather D.H. Baines (Jeff Goldblum), a man who, as Igby derisively puts it, ''is the captain of the morality team.'' Dad Jason (Bill Pullman), the only person who ever showed the young Igby any affection, has been exiled to a psychiatric hospital for good. These are the people against whom Igby wages his own personal war, flunking out of prep schools and hiding out in the Big Apple. He finds a brief respite in a tasty encounter with a college girl named Sookie Sapperstein (Claire Danes), but even that falls apart. Igby figures there just has to be a better life out there, if he can find it. Thankfully, he doesn't give up in his quest.


Only one word can really describe the talent on display in Igby: mesmerizing. There isn't one false move in the film. 20-year-old Kieran Culkin, the middle child of the Culkin acting clan and by far the better actor (word is still out on Signs' young Rory), turns in a tour de force performance as Igby. He is all at once melancholy, defiant and boyishly sexy with a tongue sharp as nails, yet when Igby's deep-seated pain hits him full force, Culkin unleashes a gamut of emotions that rock you. Certainly Oscar-worthy if enough Academy members actually see the movie. The always good Sarandon, who is in just about everything coming out this fall (The Banger Sisters, Moonlight Mile), maneuvers her way around the emotionally distant, ''very tense'' Mimi quite well, as does Pullman in his small but penetrating role as schizophrenic Daddy Slocumb. Danes, as the opinionated Sookie, does something refreshingly different here than what we've seen her do in the past. Goldblum also stretches his legs a little as the magnate D.H., but it's Amanda Peet, giving a surprising performance as D.H.'s junkie mistress Rachel, who stands out. Trying to hide her addiction from her man, Rachel is less a drugged-out loser than she is like a wounded deer who has nowhere to run. Phillippe does a nice job as the cold Oliver, but at this point, it's a character he can do in his sleep (Cruel Intentions). Might be time for him to try something else on for size.


Let's give a big warm welcome to first-time writer/director Burr Steers, who now joins the ever-growing list of young independent filmmakers to watch. As a director, Steers has a very straight-forward style. He doesn't particularly care about fancy camera moves or angles. What he cares about most is handing us his own dark, twisted view of a rich American family and making sure we hear every juicy line he has written--lines such as Igby's forlorn cry, ''I'm drowning in assholes!'' and Sookie's sardonic, ''I don't look at rolling a joint as a visceral experience.'' The world Steers has created isn't a very pretty one, so watching it, at times, is hard to take, especially when Igby has his own mini-breakdown. It's a powerful moment in the movie, one the character needs to experience so he can move on, but it comes on somewhat abruptly, almost out of the blue. It's a minor note, however, because this small movie about the problems of a few people still makes a big impact. Who knows if Steers can do something this good his second time around (and there will be a second time), but we'll line up to see it.

Bottom Line

Joining a list of already strong independent films out this year, Igby Goes Down is a trip down a dark lane you definitely want to take.