Culkin Delivers as the Narcissist Nihilist in "Igby Goes Down'

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With his mother's bewildered expression peering through the translucent shopping bag, Igby Slocumb and his brother double their effort to put the whip-tongued matriarch out of her misery.

Welcome to the world of reluctant spoiled playboy Igby in "Igby Goes Down," a black comedy that cleverly explores layers of class and culture through a dejected young man's search for self-discovery.

Igby (Kieran Culkin), is a quick-witted smart-aleck drifting without direction, knowing only that he must escape from his mother's strangling grip and his brother's looming shadow.

Disillusioned by the hypocrisy of his privileged upbringing, Igby must mediate the outrageous demands of his family and a past in which his father's psychological destruction solidified these fears.

While his older brother, Oliver, is on a steady path toward success at Columbia, Igby is determined to reject affluency, flunking from posh prep schools and escaping from military school to lead a vagrant lifestyle in New York.

Steers' sharply cynical film deconstructs an odd menagerie of characters, each a stereotype of the rich and restless. Igby's mother Mimi (Susan Sarandon) with neurotic and controlling tendencies galore has only pills, her "peppies," to feign satisfaction with her life.

His godfather D.H., a wealthy tycoon and benefactor of Igby, wants to put more than money in his pants. D.H.'s mistress, Rachel, is a dancer who doesn't dance, totters through a jumble of heroin use, sex and men. Her companion, a extravagantly bohemian performance artist with sexual ambiguity to spare.

Sookie Sapperstein (Claire Danes), while at first restrained, folds to Igby's advances and later his brother's. She's perhaps the only one who relates to Igby's frustration with the facade of wealth and privilege.

In the background is Igby's father, a shell of a man spending his days in a home. He is a lingering reminder of Igby's potential fate.

As the debut production of director and writer Burr Steers, the film reveals some disjointedness. His characters are often so quirky that their interactions at times, feel ridiculous although for the most part, the film swings between comedy and realism without problem.

While each member of Igby's pseudofamily begins as an exaggerated caricature, they blossom and reveal a humanity formerly obscured by their outward personas. The screenplay is richly written-especially Igby's sardonic dialogue, although sometimes too laden with subculture references.

Culkin delivers a strong performance, easily mixing Igby's sly wit and longing for affection and honesty from his parents.

Susan Sarandon pulls off a deliciously harsh and meticulous performance as Igby's mother. Claire Danes as Igby's sole confidant and intimate friend, gives a somewhat contrived performance in the beginning, but she later exposes Sookie as an aimless, yet vulnerable counterpart to restless Igby. Ryan Phillippe, however, lacks the subtle ability to act with disaffected condescension and to act at all.

The score begins obnoxiously, commenting intrusively on every moment. However composer Uwe Fahrenkrog Petersen later restrains the score from invading the rest of the film. The cinematography features a few brilliant moments with elegant sequences of Igby in New York City.

Igby Goes Down is a well-detailed character film, rich with dark irony and commentary on the class and social expectations which both sustain and confine Igby's quirky assortment of family and friends.


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