Igby Goes Down

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The youngest scion of an old money Manhattan clan, 17 year-old Igby hates his yuppie brother, is estranged from his schizophrenic father, bemused by his crass godfather and loathes his self-absorbed mother.


What with this and Gary Winick's Tadpole, June 2003 marked the best movie month for Upper East Side WASPs since Whit Stillman flounced out of town.

Sadly, the upper-class dysfunctional family subgenre is normally too precious (as in 'affected') to be considered truly precious (as in 'valuable') and, at first glance, the plot of Igby - rebellious teenager flunks out of prep school, romances older women - is enough to make Ken Loach fans stage a protest.

But Igby works. For a number of reasons.

First: debut writer-director Burr Steers, until now best known as the "Flock Of Seagulls" who gets shot by Jules in Pulp Fiction, is the nephew of both Gore Vidal and Jackie Onassis, and therefore knows the milieu inside out. More importantly, Steers has no obvious axe to grind, and sketches all his characters with an even hand. They may not be likeable exactly, but they are both compelling and convincing.

Second: Steers has had so many lucky breaks with his supporting cast, it's difficult to know where to start. Those reliable old-stagers, Goldblum and Sarandon, have enormous fun as the filthy rich - and plain filthy - godfather and eccentric matriarch respectively. As for Amanda Peet and Ryan Phillippe, well, anyone who has seen... ooh, anything they've ever done... will appreciate how revelatory they both are here. Peet's craven mistress and Phillippe's stern Young Republican are textbook examples of how due diligence can transform slim stereotypes into telling thumbnails. Lastly, Danes provides the kind of kookie-cool heartbreaker not seen round these parts since Winona Ryder paid for her hats.

Third: in the mostly undistinguished line of celluloid Holden Caulfields, Kieran Culkin's Igby comes closest to capturing the indomitable spirit of J.D. Salinger's original rebel. You may want to hate the privileged, precocious brat but, in Culkin's hands, Igby is simply too playful - and too painful - to allow such a knee-jerk response. Think Ferris Bueller's Year Off and you will start to appreciate Igby's unique appeal.

Witty and warm, but also bracing and biting, this is social satire of the highest order. Steers is a talent to watch, while Kieran proves himself the best actor from the Culkin clan.