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Igby Goes Down

Holden Caulfield had it easy compared to Igby Slocumb Jr in this rites of passage tale set in and around Manhattan’s better addresses. Kieron Culkin steps well out of the shadow of big brother Macaulay with an impressively attuned performance as the high-school reject having his worst fears confirmed about the iniquities of grown-up life. Burr Steers’ dazzlingly written directorial debut certainly gives him a head start towards embittered cynicism, what with a brittle, domineering mother (Susan Sarandon) popping pills like sweeties, his executive dad (Bill Pullman) passing through a nervous breakdown into catatonia, a virulently superior college student elder sibling (Ryan Philippe) treating him like pond-scum, and a complicated deal with an otherwise avuncular wheeler-dealer guardian (Jeff Goldblum) who’s unaware they’re both sharing the affections of a lithe would-be artist (Amanda Peet). Little wonder Igby dreams of escape to the West Coast, but is he all talk and no determination?
A cameo from Gore Vidal (the film-maker’s uncle, apparently) is hardly misplaced in a serio-comic drama where the crossfire of bon mots is unrelenting. You can easily see why the topline cast were attracted to work with a first-timer, but Steers already has the nous not to let any of them make too much of the polished wordplayoin this glittery milieu, shooting from the lip is both an established means of expression and a smokescreen for deeper insecurities. Playing heartlessness for both wit and pathos is a risky venture in the circumstances, but Culkin never lets us forget the inner turmoil behind the rich-kid’s sardonic braggadocio. Strong notice of talent to watch here, since it takes some doing to wrest the picture from sleekly scheming Goldblum in his cigar-chomping element.
(U.S.A., 2002. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 97 mins.)

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