“If heaven is such a wonderful place, why is getting crucified such a big fucking sacrifice,” asks Igby (Kieran Culkin), the rebel without a clue at the center of Igby Goes Down. Questions like this, which Igby hurls at any authority figure he encounters, are supposed to set him up as some sort of angst-filled existentialist. In reality, they merely serve to illustrate what a snotty, spoiled brat he truly is.
Culkin is joined by an all-star cast, including Susan Sarandon as Igby’s mom, Bill Pullman as his dad, Jeff Goldblum as his godfather, Ryan Phillippe as his brother, and Claire Danes as his girlfriend. No doubt these players were all eager to be part of the next Tadpole or Rushmore, but they’re out of luck. This heartless film is only a pale imitation of The Royal Tenenbaums, a movie it desperately attempts to emulate. Writer/director Burr Steers hasn’t nearly the wit or the wisdom necessary to pull off anything more than a one-dimensional look at family dysfunction. Consequently, Igby Goes Down is emotionally sterile – a satire with no bite, a send up with no warmth.
There’s little plot to speak of. Igby gets expelled from one school. His mother is outraged. His brother is annoyed. Igby goes to another school. Igby gets expelled. His mother is outraged. Et cetera, et cetera. For added drama, a baffling drug subplot emerges out of the blue about midway through. Despite the second-rate script, the performances are serviceable, which is the most you could ask for such clichéd, one-dimensional characters.
Throughout, there’s no mistaking the fact that Igby’s a “rebel.” The only confusion comes from considering the motives behind his behavior. Why is he such a hellion? What’s his problem? Steers makes no effort to answer these maddening questions, letting Igby’s sophomoric actions speak for themselves. So we can only wonder what drives Igby to drop water balloons from atop New York City buildings. Likewise, it’s anyone’s guess as to why Igby regards everyone in his family with such obvious contempt.
And there’s the rub: here’s a brat who’s literally been handed the world on a silver platter. He blows every chance he’s given, alienates himself from everyone in his life – for no good reason – without ever learning any kind of lesson, and we’re supposed to feel sorry for him? Sorry, kid, no can do.