Igby Goes Down

on September 13, 2002 by Michael Tunison
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   The coming-of-age story gets a memorably eccentric spin in "Igby Goes Down," the promising directorial debut of actor-screenwriter Burr Steers. Unusually well-grounded in terms of its offbeat characters and ironic situations, this bittersweet dramedy about a poor little rich teen trying to find his way in the world also serves as an impressive screen coming-of-age for actor Kieran Culkin ("The Mighty"), whose days of being identified as the kid brother of "Home Alone" star Macaulay Culkin should soon be over.

   Between the influences of his harsh, aristocratic mother (Susan Sarandon), institutionalized schizophrenic father (Bill Pullman from "Independence Day") and unfeeling older brother ("Gosford Park's" Ryan Phillippe), it's no wonder Culkin's 17-year-old Igby Slocumb is at loose ends as he ponders the path of responsibility and old-money privilege his family has laid out before him. Escaping from a military school--Mom's latest attempt to shape him up--the hero drifts into Manhattan, helps renovate a few lofts for a wealthy family friend ("Jurassic Park's" Jeff Goldblum) and falls into unorthodox relationships with both the latter's mistress (Amanda Peet from "High Crimes") and a pessimistic lapsed college student ("Romeo + Juliet's" Claire Danes). Can any of the above help Igby carve out the new life he desperately desires?

   Truly character-driven in a way that defies conventional plot formulas and easy genre categorization, Steers' loose, unpredictable story is told with such confidence that even the most surprising twists seem inevitable after the fact. Culkin's latter-day Holden Caulfield is a sarcastic, antagonistic, self-defeating punk who can't seem to make anything of his considerable advantages in life, but the actor brings such humanity to him that his struggle to find himself takes on real urgency. The drama sometimes seems a bit unfocused, particularly in the slow-launching first act, but like Igby's journey itself, its unconventional wanderings eventually bring it to a place of truth. Starring Kieran Culkin, Claire Danes, Jeff Goldblum, Jared Harris, Amanda Peet, Ryan Phillippe, Bill Pullman and Susan Sarandon. Directed and written by Burr Steers. Produced by Lisa Tornell and Marco Weber. A United Artists release. Drama/Comedy. Rated R for sexuality, language and drug content. Running time: 104 min

Tags: Kieran Culkin, Claire Danes, Jeff Goldblum, Jared Harris, Amanda Peet, Ryan Phillippe, Bill Pullman and Susan Sarandon. Directed and written by Burr Steers. Produced by Lisa Tornell and Marco Weber. A United Artists release. Drama/Comedy, unorthodox, college, pessimistic, coming-of-age
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