Ah, the New York privileged. Not the most appetizing section of humanity to view in a movie, and nothing proves that more than sitting through "Igby Goes Down" (IMDb listing).
16 year-old Igby Slocumb (Kieran Culkin, "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys") has it all: money, opportunity, and, rather inexplicably, women who are willing to sleep with him. But he doesn't want it. After seeing the degenerative effects his family wrought on his mentally troubled father (Bill Pullman), all Igby wants is to escape life. Under the thumb of his overbearing mother (Susan Sarandon), and his dismissive, yet protective brother (Ryan Phillippe, "Gosford Park"), Igby rebels against any and all schooling, preferring to spend his days roaming faux-bohemian New York City. Funded by his massively wealthy godfather (Jeff Goldblum), Igby has many adventures, including a romance with a Hamptons acquaintance (Claire Danes), casual sex with his godfather's mistress (Amanda Peet, "The Whole Nine Yards"), and the assisted suicide of his cancer-ridden mother.
"Igby Goes Down" is the debut film from actor Burr Steers ("The Last Days of Disco"), and if this is any indication of what Steers can bring to the cinematic table, I hope it's his last. A self indulgent, over-written film that steals man-child/real-world life lesson clichés from "The Graduate," and some prep school moments of "Rushmore," "Igby Goes Down" would be a lot easier to sit through if it weren't so concerned with its own hipness and sarcastic wit.
Set in the privileged, WASPy New York world, Steers's script rambles along, hitting every familiar element to these types of films (Rich people drink white wine and hate the Jews! The New York artist/heroin addict!) so hard that it dawned on me that Steers has nothing but his formula to work with. There is no plot to "Igby," and in the opening of the film, he uses these characters for laughs. Then soon enough, when the film is forced into a corner where it must have some kind of point, he then begs the audience to care about them. There isn't much thought put into the script besides glossy hipspeak (Igby makes a reference to Lorna Luft. Um...sure) and one-dimensional characterizations. With the kicker being that we have to spend 100 minutes with these people! No thanks.
Given the title role without much forethought, a wrong choice was made in hiring Kieran Culkin. A bland, inexpressive actor with limited range, Culkin has a hard time with the Igby character, who's written as a charming lad with anger and an incredible sass-mouth. But the curses fall from Culkin's tongue like anvils, and the needed charm was never there to begin with. This makes such insanely unbelievable plot twists such as Igby's sexual prowess feel more like scripted moments than natural character incidents. And Igby's scenes of rage are all wrong, bursting out of the actor in a weird, mechanical way (Bill Pullman suffers from this as well). I know there is a power to the Culkin name, but Kieran doesn't belong in leading roles like this. He needs more time to marinate.
Even stuck with a lousy script, it's still a treat to see Claire Danes act again. Coming off a three-year hiatus, Danes is the only bright spot in "Igby Goes Down," infusing her character with a bright light that the rest of the cast, stuck doing impressions of rich friends they know, can't find. It's nothing remarkable for the talented actress, but in a sea of clouds, the patch of sun always seems a little brighter.
"Igby Goes Down" is a film that is easy to miss. Unless you find jokes about the Hamptons, trust funds, or New York artists irresistible, I wouldn't go within 100 yards of this film.
Filmfodder Grade: D-