Review: Igby Goes Down (2002)

Igby Goes Down (2002)

Directed by: Burr Steers | 97 minutes | drama, comedy | Actors: Kieran Culkin, Claire Danes, Jeff Goldblum, Jared Harris, Amanda Peet, Ryan Phillippe, Bill Pullman, Susan Sarandon, Rory Culkin, Peter Anthony Tambakis, Bill Irwin, Kathleen Gati, Gannon Forrester, Celia Weston, Elizabeth Jagger

“If you really want to hear it all, then you probably want to know where I was born and what a crappy childhood I had and what my parents did before they got me and more sentimental bullshit like that, but honestly I don’t feel like talking about that.’

This is the opening sentence of the controversial – because quite explicit – book ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by JD Salinger from 1951. Main character Holden Caulfield is a sixteen-year-old, critical and depressed boy from New York who is very much at a loss with himself. The book follows his search for himself, a home and a way to become happy. Holden uses his cynicism to protect himself from the complicated, difficult world of adults. Before his death, Salinger legally banned his novel from being made into a movie after Hollywood shamelessly corrupted his story “Uncle Wiggily In Connecticut” into “My Foolish Heart.” So there will never be a movie version of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, but ‘Igby Goes Down’ comes pretty close.

Seventeen-year-old Igby Slocumb (Kieran Culkin) is the youngest member of a wealthy New York family. But money definitely does not buy happiness, that is proven once again in this family. His mother Mimi (Susan Sarandon) is a drug-addicted neurotic, his father Jason (Bill Pullman) was forced into a psychiatric hospital and his brother Oliver (Ryan Phillippe) is a brash, conservative smartass. Igby himself is an unruly rebel who is kicked from one school to another. When that happens for the umpteenth time, Igby decides to run away and move in with his fallen stepfather DH Banes (Jeff Goldblum). There he meets artist Rachel (Amanda Peet), DH’s heroin-injecting mistress. She introduces him to love, but Igby soon gets tired of her drugged lifestyle. Then he bumps into Sookie (Claire Danes), a girl a few years older than himself and in whom he thinks he has found a soulmate. However, when Oliver catches up with him and tries to persuade him to go back to school, it becomes clear that Igby cannot go on the run forever. Especially not when he learns that his mother doesn’t have long to live…

You may remember Burr Steers as Roger (Flock of Seagulls) from ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994) or as Van from ‘The Last Days of Disco’ (1998). He decided to leave acting for what it was and focus on directing. ‘Igby Goes Down’ is his first feature film. In addition, Steers also wrote the screenplay, taking unmistakable inspiration from ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. Like Holden Caulfield, Igby Slocumb kicks hard at the hypocritical world of adults. The cynicism that characterizes ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is also omnipresent in ‘Igby Goes Down’. The film initially struggles to get going, but once it does you can enjoy a delightful black comedy in the style of ‘American Beauty’, ‘The Royal Tennenbaums’ and ‘Rushmore’. The dialogues are on the cutting edge and often imbued with intelligent humour, which offers a pleasant distraction from the serious themes that are broached. Steers has also put a motley crew of characters into the film, each of which is very intriguing.

The star of the film is Kieran Culkin, the younger and more talented brother of Macauley (‘Home Alone’). With strong roles in ‘The Mighty’, ‘The Cider House Rules’ and ‘The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys’, Kieran has overtaken his older brother on all fronts. In ‘Igby Goes Down’ he plays his first leading role and he succeeds with flying colors. Igby’s complex character – behind the facade of that annoying bitch hides a hurt child who longs for a little love from his parents – he conveys with conviction. Incidentally, the even younger Rory Culkin plays a role as Igby at the age of ten. The rest of the cast also adds color to the film. Jeff Goldblum is at his best as DH Barnes. He shows very subtly that behind all the flair and charm of this businessman is actually a very dark man. Susan Sarandon is almost always good but maybe a bit over the top when the self-centered and villainous mother Mimi and Ryan Phillippe are cut out for the role of the arrogant and snobbish student. Peet, Danes and Pullman also achieve a decent level.

‘Igby Goes Down’ is one of the better coming-of-age movies of the 21st century. The melancholy humor, as can also be found in genre peers ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ and ‘Rushmore’ by director Wes Anderson, will probably not appeal to every film buff. ‘Igby Goes Down’ is therefore not really suitable for the mainstream audience. However, fans of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and Wes Anderson’s oeuvre will enjoy this film, which is well put together and with excellent acting.

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