"Igby Goes Down" is an incredibly difficult film to review, seeing as it's damn near impossible to find a place to start. I may as well try to dispel the talk of it being the closest thing to a filmed version of "Catcher in the Rye". Whatever comparisons one can make between the somewhat infamous J.D. Salinger novel and this film are purely coincidental. "Igby Goes Down" is too personal for it to be a simple adaptation. I claim this, although I don't know much about the writer/director Burr Steers, because one cannot separate art from the artist. This film also shares much in common with its protagonist; it's wry, funny, confused, a bit impatient, cold, and even desperate. It is an endearing, deceivingly honest work.
Kieran Culkin is Igby, the youngest child in the Slocumb family. His father (Bill Pullman) suffered a severe nervous breakdown, thanks mostly to Mimi (Susan Sarandon), Igby's dying shrew of a mother. Igby hates his lifestyle and his family and goes to work for his godfather, D.H. (Jeff Goldblum), mostly to get away from them. While painting one of D.H.'s flats in the Hamptons, Igby meets Rachel (Amanda Peet) and her roommate Russel (Jared Harris), who both claim to be artists even if they haven't produced any art in their lives.
Igby has been kicked out of nearly every good boarding and military school in New York, and after the summer is over, he is being flown home so Mimi can decide what to do with him. On the way to the airport, however, Igby breaks for it, and ends up staying with Rachel and Russel, and ends up in relationships with both Rachel and Sookie (Claire Danes), a caterer who Igby met at a party. He dreams to fly to L.A. with Sookie and really begin his life from there. Soon, however, his brother Oliver (Ryan Phillippe) comes looking for him, and his plans don't work out exactly the way he wants them to.
"Igby Goes Down" almost collapses as a product of its own confused plot. Igby is such a fascinating character, and we are supposed to be watching the most pivotal time of his life. What we are actually being treated to is a dilapidated soap opera, concerned most about who is in whose bed. I felt that there was more to all of this that Burr Steers is not letting us get to. There's a more important story lurking somewhere underneath the surface that we never get to see. I'm not sure what he was trying to accomplish with a few love triangles that he couldn't say in a more effective manner.
Despite all of this, the movie doesn't stink. How could it, when we sense that Steers has such a real connection to the material? I sense that at one point in his life, Steers was Igby, and his family (or a family he knew) may not have been too different from the one in the film. These kind of characters are just too crazy not to be real; you just can't make this stuff up. They're so convincing within their own crazy little world that we're sold; Steers draws us in.
Not to mention that to pull it off, the performances must be rock-solid. That, they are. Leading the cast, Kieran Culkin displays the perfect mix of emotions so that we always know Igby, even when the film starts to go off on one of its "romantic" tangents or when even Igby doesn't know who he is. We always see the gears cranking and getting jammed up inside his head. Everyone else is superb, as well, including a hilarious turn by Susan Sarandon. Trust me, even after the range of roles she's played, from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" to "Dead Man Walking", you've never seen her like this.
"Igby Goes Down" may travel into very well-known territory and its course may have been charted before, but somehow, it stays unto its own. Much like Igby himself, there's much dragging it down, but it never sinks. Thanks to a wonderful cast portraying some very real characters well crafted by Steers, "Igby" wins out.