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Igby Goes Down

A decade ago, who'd have guessed that the new millennium's "It Culkin" would turn out to be Kieran? Back then, big brother Macaulay was the cute-as-a-button towhead everyone loved in Home Alone, and Kieran was just one of the many interchangeable siblings the Culkin parents shepherded around Hollywood. But fast forward a few years, and while Mac is scrambling for a comeback in Party Monster and recovering from a failed marriage at the ripe old age of 22, Kieran is continuing to prove that he's the Culkin with the real goods. Even in small parts in Steve Martin's two Father of the Bride movies, Culkin's clear-eyed pragmatism shone through, and in The Cider House Rules he deftly played the orphaned Buster, a stoic character who had to learn how to protect himself against the world's cruelty. In other words, he'd already honed just the characteristics he'd need to play Igby Slocumb. Indie fave Igby Goes Down is the Catcher in the Rye-esque story of a wealthy, cynical teenager (Culkin) who doesn't defy authority so much as consistently prove he has no use for it — nor it for him. Like J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield, Igby is fed up with the phony people around him, from his venomous, high-strung mother Mimi (Susan Sarandon in all her glory) to his rich, hypocritical godfather D.H. (Jeff Goldblum). He learns nothing from the series of schools he's forced to attend (and subsequently escapes), and he looks at the world with one eyebrow permanently raised. But although he's old before his time in many ways, at heart Igby is also a scared kid longing for stability and affection. After he ditches his latest educational institution and sets up camp in a Manhattan artist's loft, he finds the latter, at least temporarily, in the form of sharp-tongued college student Sookie Saperstein (Claire Danes). But even their bohemian idyll can't stave off Igby's family forever (besides his mother, there's his rigidly perfect brother Oliver, played with cold acuity by Ryan Phillippe). Before Igby can really become his own person, he has to face Mimi, as well as the living ghost of his father, Jason (Bill Pullman), an intelligent, sophisticated man who disintegrated in the face of mental illness when Igby was a child.

*          *          *

Not exactly the stuff of comedy, on the face of it. But thanks to writer/director Burr Steers' sharp script and Culkin's cynically nonchalant performance, Igby Goes Down is laced with dark, witty humor and plenty of pointed zingers. ("His creation was an act of animosity," Mimi says of her black-sheep son at one point. "Why shouldn't his life be one?") Steers' characters may speak with the kind of verbal dexterity only found on screen (and in Aaron Sorkin's TV shows), but the words they use as they fight to find genuine feelings and connections in a world obsessed with superficiality are worth listening to. And while the film deals with the sort of tony Upper East Side existence most of us can't exactly relate to, because of the way he sees the world and expresses himself, Igby is never at risk of being dismissed as a poor little rich boy. As Igby, Culkin is both carefully detached and impetuously passionate — sort of a cross between Tobey Maguire and Robert Downey Jr.'s characters in Wonder Boys. And he holds his own, even amidst stellar supporting turns by Sarandon, Goldblum, Danes, and Amanda Peet (as the self-destructive resident of the aforementioned artist's loft), anchoring the movie with the kind of vivid, heartbreaking performance his big brother could only dream of. It isn't a perfect film — Steers occasionally indulges in a bit of quirkiness for quirkiness' sake — but Culkin delivers the perfect Igby. MGM's DVD release of Igby Goes Down offers a clean anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that vividly portrays both the crisp wistfulness of a Manhattan autumn and the carefree breeziness of a Hamptons summer. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio never falters, while other options include French and Spanish 2.0 Surround tracks and English, French, and Spanish subtitles. The features list is healthy for a smaller film — in addition to a 16-min. "making-of" featurette (which, thanks to the folks involved, is a bit more compelling than the average talking-head-fest), there's an Igby trailer, a bevy of MGM trailers, a behind-the-scenes photo gallery (40+ stills), a conversational (if not exactly scintillating) commentary by Culkin and Steers, and a 10-min. deleted scenes reel. That last extra is probably the most interesting — the cut sequences offer more insights into the story's major characters and put some of the film's moments into better context. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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