Igby Goes Down

It is a tenet of scriptwriting that coming-of-age screenplays must portray the protagonist as the only sane person lost amongst a sea of stupidity. Igby Goes Down, the debut from writer/director Burr Steers, is no different. The title character, Igby (Kieran Culkin, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, The Cider House Rules) is a disaffected sarcastic young high schooler, rebelling against what he views is the hypocrisy of anything and everything around him. He has the opposite personality of his older brother Oliver (Ryan Phillippe, Gosford Park, AntiTrust), a successful student a Columbia. Igby pays no attention at school, and is kicked out of one school after another. The only way he is able to get into more schools is because of his mother's (Susan Sarandon, Cats & Dogs, Rugrats in Paris) connections. Mimi's life is one of constant drug use.

Igby lives in the shadow of his father (Bill Pullman, Lucky Numbers, Titan A.E.), who is now in an institution. His way of coping is to lash out at everything around him, especially his mother. After a particularly bad time at military school, Igby runs away, living in a loft owned by his godfather D.H. (Jeff Goldblum, Festival in Cannes, Cats & Dogs), a wealthy businessman. D.H.'s mistress Rachel (Amanda Peet, Changing Lanes, High Crimes) lives in the loft, and her boyfriend is performance artist Russel (Jared Harris, Mr. Deeds, Bullfighter). Igby's goal is to escape from his life and find something new. He believes that Sookie (Claire Danes, Brokedown Palace, The Mod Squad) can help him escape from this. She represents the opposite of what he knew.

Steer's observations about the vapidity of the upper echelons of class in America are not new. He does have some viciously funny comments through Igby's observations. That, coupled with the fact that this is the second movie in a row where Culkin plays a renegade from parochial school takes some of the 'bite' out of Steers' material, making seem more mundane than it really is. Culkin does a decent job of carrying the movie; he has had some practice at the same character. It is hard to truly like his character, because he is such an arrogant jerk. In order to make Igby Goes Down work, Steers needed to make the Igby character an ass while making him likable, and he doesn't quite succeed on the latter part. For every witty comment that Igby makes, he makes a couple of obscenely stupid decisions, things that even he should know.

Igby Goes Down also suffers from supporting characters that are much too interesting. The viewer ends up wanting to see more of them on screen and less of Igby. Mimi and Oliver each have their own way of coping with their issues. Oliver is much more successful at it than Igby. D.H. flaunts his hypocrisy in the open, and the only person oblivious to it is his wife. Sarandon, Phillippe, and Goldblum's performances are good given their limited screen time. It just feels like each character has one outrageous or weird scene, then they disappear back into the surroundings. In the same fashion that Steers makes Igby such a jerk, he ends up taking the movie a little too far. Granted this is in some sense a satire, but the ending is a little too far out there.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 37 minutes, Rated R for language, sexuality, and drug content.

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