film review: Igby Goes Down ****

All the world needs is another coming of age film, right? How about one with Macaulay Culkin’s brother starring in a Catcher in the Rye-type story? Add in Bill Lake Placid Pullman and has-been Claire Danes and this movie sounds like the worst idea since The Wayne Brady Show. Igby Goes Down, however, is a terrific film. Yes, it’s got Kieran Culkin. Yes, it’s another film about a jaded youth inspired by Catcher in the Rye. It’s even got Pullman and Danes, but they’re surprisingly good.

Igby Goes Down centers around the title character, Igby Slocumb, a 17-year-old who rebels against his affluent family and goes off on his own. Igby, played by Culkin, has a witty intellect, but drops out of high school and gets thrown out of every private school that his mother enrolls him into. The majority of the film is about Igby’s existence in New York, and his various relationships and experiences.

What makes this comedic drama worth four stars is its awesome character development. Culkin is perfect as Igby, but the film wouldn’t be nearly as good without its supporting actors. They include Susan Sarandon, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Ryan Phillippe, Claire Danes and Amanda Peet.

Sarandon and Pullman are a notable highlight as Igby’s bizarre parents. During his childhood, Igby’s father slowly went insane, and his mother seems headed down the same zany path of incoherence. Their other son, Oliver, (Ryan Phillippe) is a successful college student who is a few years older than Igby. Phillippe plays this part perfectly, which makes sense, considering his past experience as the uppity snob.

Goldblum plays Igby’s godfather, and basically serves as his cash cow throughout the film. He offers Igby money and work, and tries to support him in whatever he does.

Peet and Danes are Igby’s (much older) love interests. To Igby, his family is little more than a spastic afterthought, and he devotes this emotional vacancy to a double love jones.

The most significant aspects of a low-budget drama are also the most low-tech. Acting, writing, music and cinematography – the wholesome basics – have to be incredibly on point, due to the scarcity of action sequence junk food. Igby Goes Down is cast perfectly all around, and the script, by newcomer/director Burr Steers, is one of the best of the year. The music and cinematography combine with the story and acting like pieces of a puzzle to produce an emotionally potent result.

Igby Goes Down will evoke a wide palette of feelings within audiences. Imagine American Beauty with a teenager in Kevin Spacey’s role. Instead of a middle aged man dealing with his wife and daughter, it’s a teenager dealing with his parents and brother. Parts are funny and parts are sad. Very few films are able to make an audience cry, only to have them laughing a few minutes later, and vice versa. Don’t get the wrong impression – Igby Goes Down is not a bipolar jug of syrupy emotion. Its story is legitimate, quality entertainment that requires a rare and deserved commitment from the viewer.

Shawn Wines can be reached at

October 1, 2002


The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami

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