- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2002

Poor, poor Igby Slocumb. Young, handsome and able to tap his mother's credit card at a moment's notice, Igby nevertheless appears on the verge of a breakdown.
If you had a mother like his, perhaps you would be, too.
"Igby Goes Down," the writing-directing debut of District native Burr Steers, makes us care about the title character despite his insufferable ways.
Thank Mr. Steers' sardonic dialogue as one reason "Igby" is a bona fide find in the midst of the traditionally slow September season.
Mr. Steers, nephew of Gore Vidal, also has penned the nastiest role of Susan Sarandon's career. Igby's pill-popping mother is a movie villain for the ages, a maternal spin on Gene Hackman's depraved papa from "The Royal Tenenbaums" (2001).
Igby, a star-making role for Kieran Culkin, is at turns morose, optimistic, spoiled and exasperating. He also is an innocent, a credit to Mr. Culkin's soulful eyes, reminiscent of Robert Downey Jr. at his most vulnerable.
The film is by no means flawless. Fault Mr. Steers for some clunky transitions in the early going, and his whip-smart dialogue is too consistently wry to ring true, no matter how sparkling the performances.
Still, "Igby" possesses a steely combination of humor and pain that lingers long after the theater's lights snap back on.
"Igby" finds our floppy-haired protagonist drifting from one elite prep school to the next, much to the chagrin of his mother, Mimi (Miss Sarandon). Brother Oliver (Ryan Phillippe) shrugs off Igby's plight, unable to fathom why his little brother can't buckle down.
Igby's father (Bill Pullman) is no help. His alcoholism gave way to schizophrenia when Igby was a child, and he lives a silent existence in a sanitarium.
Even the discipline of the military school Mimi sends Igby to can't break the boy's restless spirit. Again he flees, this time to New York City to live off his godfather's benevolence. Igby's godfather, a shameless cad given a charismatic jolt by Jeff Goldblum, introduces Igby to his mistress (Amanda Peet) as well as the seamier side of the city.
Igby eventually falls in with a fellow lost soul, Sookie (Claire Danes), reaching out to her with heartbreaking results.
What follows is a peripatetic journey through the class system as seen through the eyes of a scribe who apparently knows the subject matter all too well.
"Igby" carries the same disillusioned torch that lit such films as "The Graduate." Yet Igby is a far more difficult character to embrace than that movie's befuddled lead. Slowly, as more and more people disappoint Igby, we set aside our reservations over his boorish behavior.
Humor is the young man's only weapon, but it is a fierce one, able to leave marks when needed. Only Miss Danes' character sees through his wisecracks, and Igby is enchanted by her for it. Their relationship is as complex as the rest of the film, but it serves to show Igby reaching out for the humanity his own family never offered.
For Mr. Goldblum, "Igby" marks a career resurrection following a stretch of insignificant roles. Miss Peet, her pumped-up lips and teeth adding to her eclectic beauty, proves she deserves a promotion from earlier stinkers such as "The Whole Nine Yards" and "Saving Silverman."
Even Mr. Phillippe, whose golden-boy looks usually serve him better than his acting chops, finds the core of his heartless character.
"Igby" shifts from a Midwestern military school to New York City and Washington, with each setting magnified by director of photography Wedigo von Schultzendorff's keen eye for opulence.
Some may find Igby's unorthodox quest for self off-putting. His financial resources, while imperfect, outstretch those of most people seeking inner peace. Yet few will doubt that while money can buy plenty, it can't buy a respite from suffocating family ties.

*** 1/2
TITLE: "Igby Goes Down"
RATING: R (brief nudity, foul language and drug use)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Burr Steers
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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