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September 02

Writer/Director Burr Steer

Review Sam North

a clever and refreshing black comedy

Starring Kieran Culkin, Ryan Phillipe, Susan Sarandon Don, Clare Danes, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Amanda Peet.

Finally, a movie that reflects the cynicism that we all feel about this century. Igby Goes Down by Burr Steer has been slow to emerge from the studio vaults but is well worth the wait and it is as refreshing as the day Harold and Maude came out to shock the 1970’s.
Witty, literate and targeting the rich dysfunctional Washington family of the Slocomes, we are in Royal Tennenbaum territory. This is a family based upon bitterness, disappointment, revenge and at the centre of it is Kieran Culkin’s wonderfully sarcastic Igby, the young brother who just can’t live up to the family standards. Nor could his father, who was checked into the house for the insane. Igby is sharper than most satires about family life and Clare Danes has finally an opportunity to shine as the girl both brothers share. Ryan Phillipe reprises his aloof, distant cold-hearted preppy role that he is so good at and Susan Sarandon as the selfish, substance abusing; tyrannical ‘caring’ mother is perfectly cast.
The family story begins with Iby and his brother trying to kill their mother and then the journey to this moment told in flashback. Kieran’s Igby is played by Rory Caulkin in his earlier version. (Is their no end to Caulkins?) It is not a happy story. But you do get to understand how a young might end up so jaundiced.
The title comesfrom an episode of institualised bullying at Military school, but could equally be taken from his descent into the hell of his own making in the big bad city.

Jeff Goldblum reinvents himself as the rich, property magnate who flaunts his mistresses and is Igby’s godfather. He has rules, break them and you’ll find out what they are. There is a nasty moment when Igby finds out the rules and it centres around the mistress played by Amanda Peet, who allows Igby to crash at her place when he refuses to go to College (after being escaping from Military School.)
This is a film about Igby growing up – his is not yet 18, and it is a portrait of the sheer malevolence families can inflict upon one another. Yet it is always witty, Igby’s sarcasm is literate and perfectly natural, unlike Clare Danes laughter – a momentary scene to treasure.

Amanda Peet as the disintegrating junkie turns in a fine performance, as does weak, hapless Bill Pullman as the father, who just can’t take the pressure.

Igby and his brother loathe each other with believable indifference and it’s worse for Igby because his brother is, of course, a straight A student whilst he is a miserable failure.
Igby in New York endures humiliation after humiliation, but he seems to survive and even when his brother steals his girlfriend, he somehow pulls through. Not without much anquish and pain.

This is Burr Steers first feature film and bodes well for future work. He has good contacts with his uncredited relative Gore Vidal popping up as a headmaster earlier in the film.
Will Igby survive? I hope so. I for one would love to see a sequel.

Ibgy Goes Down is a clever and refreshing black comedy and make a point of taking your mother when you go.

© Sam North Ocotber 12 2002

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