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With: Kieran Culkin, Susan Sarandon, Jeff Goldblum, Claire Danes, Ryan Phillippe, Bill Pullman, Amanda Peet, Jared Harris, Rory Cuklin, Bill Irwin
Written by: Burr Steers
Directed by: Burr Steers
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexuality and drug content
Running Time: 97
Date: 05/23/2002
IMDB

Igby Goes Down (2002)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Upper Class Act

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

People have been asking me what the title Igby Goes Down means. I guess it can sound rather racy if you think about it in a certain way, but it's not. Igby Goes Down is an eccentric comedy about a lost, cynical young man who reaches the end of his rope.

Kieran Culkin stars as Igby, and frankly, his life could be better. His father (Bill Pullman) has gone around the bend mentally and now gazes blankly out a window in the local nuthouse. His mother (Susan Sarandon) is a persnickety society woman who has contracted cancer.

As the story begins, Igby has flunked out of nearly every prep school imaginable, and threats of military school have become a reality. He runs away and stays in a loft designed for Rachel (Amanda Peet), a junkie, choreographer and trophy girlfriend of Igby's slick godfather D.H. Baines (Jeff Goldblum).

Once there, he meets the slightly older Sookie Sapperstein (Claire Danes), and actually makes a connection with her. Suddenly everything seems right. But Igby's snooty, prep school-bred older brother Oliver (Ryan Phillippe), who is closer to Sookie's age, puts the moves on her, and Igby can't believe she'd fall for such a phony.

When Igby realizes his brother has indeed moved in on the girl of his dreams, he erupts in a fit of screaming, pounding on her door, before suffering a complete breakdown and tearfully collapsing in her hallway.

That's when we realize that Culkin has given Igby his all -- it's a great performance.

The various storylines in Igby Goes Down are wound together so tightly that each time Igby thinks he's taken a step forward, one spring uncoils and knocks him three steps backward. A romp in the sack with Rachel, for example, leads to an unpleasant confrontation with D.H.-- though not in the way you'd think.

The film's clincher comes when Igby and Oliver must reunite in order to poison their mother to death. She's so high-society, she'd rather die a proper upper-class death than suffer the demeaning rigors of cancer. (It takes a long time; all that tennis playing has left her in good shape.)

Unfortunately, writer-director Burr Steers dilutes the scene's power slightly by moving it to the beginning of the film (one of my current pet peeves, suggesting the filmmaker doesn't trust the audience to like the film without an instant hook -- and revealing his cowardice). But nowhere else does Igby show anything close to cowardice. It's brave enough to laugh at its own crushing growing pains -- and we laugh, too.

Igby Goes Down winds up as one of the year's smartest, darkest comedies. It's funny like is funny; we laugh becausethere's nothing else left.

It also reminds me of another prep school comedy, the recent Tadpole, which falters because the screenplay bends the central character, making him smart, dumb, brave or cowardly according to the whims of the plot. In Igby, everything reacts to Igby, not the other way around.

Steers (who played Roger, the guy with the Flock of Seagulls hair, in Pulp Fiction) turns in a snappy screenplay that curls at the edges; it's so clever you want to hate it. (The fact that you're watching spoiled rich kids complain about their lives doesn't help matters much.) But he somehow pulls it off.

We're hooked, thanks to Igby's genuine center, and the top-notch performances from everyone in the cast (Oscar-winner Sarandon included).

Igby Goes Down is a truly accomplished debut.

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