Igby Goes Down (15)
Life’s not easy when your father’s in the asylum and your mother’s a pill-popping harpy. For young Igby it comes down to a stark choice: feigning acceptance of the mores and twisted traditions of his white, middle-class family or ditching the whole notion in the search for freedom and truth.
Such is the premise of Igby Goes Down, one of the sharpest, funniest and saddest tales of teen angst to come out of America in years. With an ensembles cast to die for – it boasts Susan Sarandon, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Claire Danes, Ryan Phillippe and Kieran Culkin, plus support from Amanda Peet and Aaron Harris, son of the late Richard – this is precisely the sort of film directors have been trying to make ever since JD Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye.
In the film’s pre-credit sequence an ailing Sarandon is killed off by her two sons – ultra-conservative Phillippe and the misfit Igby (Culkin, a revelation in the way brother Macaulay was at age eight) – in a scene that is both intensely unsettling and darkly funny.
In fact writer/director Burr Steers makes none of his central characters particularly likeable save for Pullman’s pathetic mental case who, after enduring marriage to Sarandon’s glacial bitch, breaks down and ends his days as a silent, tousle-haired tragedy in the local loony bin.
Phillippe is seen as a quisling – a rebel preaching silent family sedition just like Igby who, in the name of hard cash, prefers to join the rat race of the middle classes. “He’s majoring in neo-fascism. Sorry, economics,” quips Culkin in one of the film’s many excellent verbal spats. Goldblum’s materialistic and dead-eyed tycoon, in his designer suits and shades, slides menacingly through the proceedings like a cobra smelling prey, while Danes and Peet, as Culkin’s lovers, drift in and out to balance freedom with misery.
Part The Royal Tenenbaums, part Donnie Darko, Igby Goes Down (the title refers to Igby taking a fall at the hands of his various tormentors) is deliciously offbeat. More than anything else it provides a magnificent (and much deserved) launching pad for the brilliant Culkin who, in the blink of an eye, eclipses his siblings.
With such a stellar cast it is hard to find any fault with this picture. Steers lives up to his name by guiding his stars through a superb, biting script that gives each of them fully-rounded characters while offering dry, dark, smart and witty lines to one and all.
Teen rebels everywhere will identify with something in Igby Goes Down. Whether it’s the silent wish for matricide or patricide, hatred of older siblings, unrequited love or the despising of one’s birthright, it’s all here in spades. It also bodes well for the future of Culkin Jnr who, with this film, has immediately made himself one of the hot new stars to watch.
Star rating: *****