I saw Igby Goes Down last week, and came out in a morosely sad mood. Some reviewers were not entirely thrilled by the New York upper class milieu in which the story plays out, so fair warning: if you don’t particular care about rich kids with problems, it’s not the movie for you.
That said, Kieran Culkin is absolutely great as the lead character, and the rest of the cast is solid. The director, Burr Steers, got Ryan Phillippe to play the role he knows how to play; he’s the same spoiled brat we saw in Cruel Intentions. Amanda Peet gets a similar boost from good casting. Igby’s parents, played by Susan Sarandon and Bill Pullman, are just solid. And the best of all is Jeff Goldblum, playing an emotionless affable friend of the family, breaking beautifully away from the roles he’s been doing in summer blockbusters for the last few years.
The movie is set in a bit of a fantasy New York (see comments above). I don’t think I ever saw anyone wearing anything less than elegant; the one shot of a bus ride is cleverly handled from outside the bus so as to avoid boring us with the passengers. Steers comes from the same background as young Igby, and he really gets the glossy perfection of it down pat. I think this is intentional; it’s not that Steers doesn’t know poverty exists, but we’re seeing the world through Igby’s eyes, and Igby has no concept of real suffering.
In other words, the movie works on two levels. There’s the relatively straight-forward story of Igby’s coming of age — you may insert the obligatory Holden Caulfield reference here if you like — but there’s also the bitter satire of the world in which he lives. I think, in the end, it’s the latter that left me feeling moody and sad.