Igby Goes Down


Directed by: Burr Steers
Written by:Burr Steers
Starring: Kieran Culkin, Claire Danes, Jeff Goldblum, Jared Harris, Amanda Peet, Ryan Phillippe, Bill Pullman, Susan Sarandon
Released: June 5, 2003
Grade: A

Love is the ultimate human need with money and power being insufficient substitutes.  Our distorted society perceives wealth as the ultimate measure of success but Igby Goes Down destroys this misconception in its brilliance.  It is one of the most intelligent releases of the year and the deep messages shine through a multitude of memorable quotes.

17-year-old Igby Slocumb (Culkin) is a gifted child in a troubled family.  His father (Pullman) had a nervous breakdown when Igby was just 10 and now lives free from the pressures of family and work in a mental institution.  His mother Mimi (Sarandon) is obsessed with appearances and combined with her addiction to pills, she keeps a very tight reign over the family’s activities.  Igby’s older brother Oliver (Phillippe) graduated with honours from high school and is now the pride of the family with a prestigious college position.  Supporting them all is D.H. (Goldblum), Igby’s godfather and a very powerful property developer who uses his money to control all who surround him.

Igby sees through the charade by which his family lives but his youth and inexperience keep him trapped.  He wants to escape, leave this mess behind and create his own life but his tied to his family both financially and emotionally.  Forced to attend military school by his oppressive mother, Igby sees a window of opportunity when D.H. offers him a job in New York over the summer.  The rebellious Igby decides not to return to school and hides from his family by bunking in a swanky apartment with “a dancer who doesn’t dance” and a “painter who doesn’t paint”.  He also falls in love with an lively girl named Sookie (Danes) and Igby has his first real sense of independence.

Soon though, the familiar walls start closing in on Igby.  His jealous brother starts courting Sookie to deliberately get back at him.  His mother sends word she is terminally ill and wants to take her own life.  His flatmate, Rachel (Peet), is seeing her life ruined by a growing drug addiction.  His own bank account has dwindled and with the novelty of his holiday wearing thin, thoughts of an uncertain future cloud his thoughts.

With much to tell, writer/director Burr Steers has created an honestly brutal look at the troubles of upper-class society.  Like a good black comedy, you’ll find yourself laughing at the self-indulgence of these characters whilst feeling sorry for their unfortunate position at the same time.  As Igby, the subdued Kieran Culkin (younger brother of Macaulay) speaks with sarcastic elegance.  It’s a breakthrough role that brought back memories of the underappreciated Thora Birch in Ghost World.

The power of Jeff Goldblum’s character was the most intriguing part of Igby Goes Down but Claire Danes, Amanda Peet and Ryan Phillippe all play absorbing characters with unspoken agendas.  They aren’t one-dimensional nor do they blatantly preach obvious messages (like so many films these days).  Their actions and emotions are open to considerable interpretation and you will need to draw conclusions based on your own personal experiences.

The characters are the focus but Steers provides plenty more to enjoy.  The scenes intertwined with the opening credits set up the film’s off-beat tone.  The background settings are idyllic and bring realism to the foreground with dashes of comedy thrown in.  The ever changing film score is again proof that there’s a variable mix of both tears and laughs.

Igby Goes Down can be described as a hilarious parody of the self-absorbed or a troubling look at society in general.  Igby may go down, but here’s a film that should be going straight to the top of any must-see list.