Igby Goes Down

June, 2003, Drama

Directed by:Burr Steers

Starring:Kieran Culkin, Claire Danes, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Susan Sarandon

Dante's ninth circle of hell gets a cinematic revisit in this caustic examination of the downward trajectory of an upscale kid who's equal parts intelligence and rebellion. A remarkably well-suited cast including Jeff Goldblum, Susan Sarandon, (returning to fine form after her lobotomized performance in Moonlight Mile) Jeff Daniels, Ryan Phillippe and Clare Danes help newcomer Kieran Culkin (Macaulay's younger and far less adorable brother) in this acidly sketched portrait of an affluent WASP family imploding into richly deserved oblivion.

Culkin plays the title character, introduced in a series of higly effective under-the-credits vignettes designed to sketch the true extent of his dysfunctional family, peopled by Bitch-Mom Sarandon, passive-aggressive Dad Daniels, and throughly snotty older brother Phillippe. Igby gets disgorged from this familial stew as soon as his mother can pack him off to boarding school, but by the time she does so, Igby's defiance, (coupled with the kind of street-smart cunning that would do a carnival barker proud) bounces our hero from one institution to another like a hockey puck. Nearing his 16th birthday, Igby's had enough; slipping a last attempt to ship him off to a high-security prep school, he decides to lose himself in the Manhattan scene to which his lineage and his godfather, (Goldblum) have introduced him.

In the weeks which follow, Igby learns the gentlemanly arts of 1) crashing in other peoples' apartments, (2) sleeping with older chicks, (3) dealing recreational drugs and (4) getting the stuffing pounded out of him by Goldblum, who reacts somewhat badly to Igby's cuckolding moves on Goldblum's mistress. If those events weren't award-winning bummers all by themselves, Mom develops a rapidly spreading cancer which the brothers ameliorate by going to her home in Washington, where they learn more about Igby's paternity before the boys deliver a fatal dose of painkillers to ease Mom over to the other side…..

Culkin and Phillippe are especially fine as the less than attractive brothers, and Goldblum turns in a masterpiece of satirical interpretation as the business man/ godfather who's a perfect caricature of the guy you've met at cocktail parties all you life who is so appallingly unaware of his impact on others you wonder how he's survived, much less succeeded. The movie sets up its main characters with corrosive glee, but then turns them to mush when the focus moves to Igby's deathbed reconciliation with Mom and his visit to good old institutionalized Dad before heading into the sunset to put his still adolescent life in order.

 More savagery in the final reel might have made this a really memorable film, but as is, it's just an amusingly dark study of just how badly wealth without character can screw you up. Since that's an insight grasped pretty firmly by those of us with three score or more years to our credit, my guess is that this movie will appear more profound to the under 35 set.   

Jake's Takes comments powered by Disqus