Igby Goes Down (2002)

Written and directed by Burr Steers

“I feel this great, great pressure coming down on me. Constantly pressing down on me. Crushing me.”

The Disc

It’s labelled as a ‘Collector’s Edition’, though quite what kind of collection it would end up in, I’m not entirely sure. Well, the collection of someone who has hoarded discs for twenty-odd years, of course.

There’s a commentary with Steers and star Kieran Culkin, a featurette, deleted scenes, photo gallery and trailer, so clearly a choice was made when labelling it a ‘Collector’s Edition’ rather than ‘Special Edition’, but considering the multitude of vanilla discs we’re seeing a couple of decades on, I suppose it’s a decent haul.

Why did I get this?!

Genuinely, I don’t have a clue.

I suppose, thinking back, I might have been trying to connect better with Catcher In The Rye – an apparent literary classic which has always left me cold – as I remember Igby being mentioned in the same breath as that book’s protagonist, Holden Caulfield.

This film is one I’ve rarely thought about over the years, and I suspect I’m not alone. In terms of what I remember about it, there’s not a lot there either. I think Culkin finds himself at the wrong end of a series of unfortunate events, and it also features Amanda Peet (who I felt very strongly about at the time), and Jeff Goldblum (who’s always interesting to watch).

I also recall it was darkly comic and moody, but that’s about it. Empire magazine called it “Ferris Bueller’s Year Off”, according to the cover quote, and the reviews seem fairly positive, so let’s give it a spin…

The Late Review

As always, the Late Review will cover the film from start to finish in depth, so it’s pretty long, and you can expect spoilers below – scroll straight to the next heading to avoid them!

Remember how I said I thought Igby… was “darkly comic”? Well, turns out the movie opens with the death rattle of Susan Sarandon (she’s in this!), before Ryan Phillippe (he’s in this too!), ties a plastic bag around her head after discussing with Culkin their mother’s inability to die from a drug overdose because she already takes so much.


Next up, it’s a flashback to young Igby and Phillippe being told by their dad Bill Pullman (he’s in this!), that he’s often unwell in winter, so he can’t go back to work. Half my brain is thinking they’re teeing up Pullman’s mental illness while the other half’s thinking “that child actor playing young Phillippe appears to have hair made of coral”.

Yep, now Bill Pullman’s bollock-naked at the dinner table. The kids look baffled, while Sarandon’s making her displeasure known with more pills and booze. Mental illness is fun, folks!

Back to the present-day, and Culkin’s sitting with the school priest and proving how edgy he is by asking: “If Heaven’s such a wonderful place, then how is getting crucified such a fucking sacrifice?”

Rolls eyes.

Predictably, he’s been kicked out of school and sent to a military academy. I’m sure that’ll straighten him right out oh no, he’s smoking weed with his roommates and now he’s being twatted by bullies with brooms and one of them said “…and Igby goes down!”, and that’s one helluva busy opening ten minutes.

So Goldblum offers Culkin a summer job in New York, and Culkin steals pills from Sarandon and hides them in a teddy bear before typing a note for a hotel concierge to get himself a room. Clearly, Kieran Culkin learned from his brother’s mistakes when he encountered difficulties with hotel folks in New York, eh readers?

Oh wait, nope, the Army have tracked him down before he can even finish his bottle of bourbon.

Meanwhile, Sarandon’s cross with her maid, so sits on her head (not like that, it’s not that sort of a movie), and while discussing Igby’s school problems announces “his creation was an act of animosity, why shouldn’t his life be one?” Clearly, she’s going for Mother of the Year.

So now Culkin’s painting Goldblum’s New York apartment while sharing stoned philosophy with an extra, but in walks Amanda Peet. We can tell Igby’s obsessed with her, because Bohemian Like You by The Dandy Warhols takes over the soundtrack.

Did I mention this film is from 2002? There’ll probably be some Travis or Coldplay later.

Wait, now Igby’s met Clare Danes who’s working as a waitress at Goldblum’s beach house party. She’s called Sookie Sapperstein, which is a name worthy of the Coen Brothers, and has completely enchanted Culkin with such stunning banter as…

DANES: “Whenever I’m at a bit of a loss, I dip into Rilke.”

CULKIN: “Rilke? Oh, that tortures me.”

Googles ‘Rilke’.

Oh, for fu…

Huge sections of this script are painfully ‘clever-clever’, with – in my humble opinion – emphasis on the painful, but then I’m drawn back into it with something silly like a magnificent spit-take by Culkin as he sips from a wine glass containing a cigarette butt.

So now Culkin’s running through New York in slow motion, and he’s hiding out at Goldblum’s flat – Goldblum doesn’t live there, it’s where he keeps Amanda Peet. He’s not a good guy, in case that hadn’t come across – and now Jared Harris (he’s in this!), has turned up wearing a handlebar moustache and hippy clothes. He’s sort of a camp artist stereotype, but looks like he’s sleeping with Amanda Peet as well as supplying her with drugs.

Honestly, it feels like this role was written with Philip Seymour Hoffman in mind. Watching the featurette, it looks like it was a pretty frugal production, so I wonder if they couldn’t afford him? No matter, obviously, Harris is always great.

Right, so Peet has just woken Culkin up and pretty much molested him. He doesn’t appear even slightly bothered by this, but still, it’s a bit… y’know.

Never mind, here’s a note from Sarandon to Goldblum written in lipstick on a mirror (“FUCK YOU”), and Culkin getting twatted on the head by a set of keys thrown from a second-floor window to make us laugh and forget about feeling uncomfortable.

Soon enough, someone from the military academy visits Goldblum’s flat to see if Igby’s around as a favour to his mother, but he’s made to feel uncomfortable by a flirty Jared Harris, who then calls Culkin “Anne Frank” – homophobia and Holocaust jokes? Man, this is so EDGY!

Later, Culkin brings Danes to the flat to discover Goldblum sitting on a beanbag, cigar and whiskey in hand, trousers round ankles, while Peet freshens up across the room. He gets up, dresses and leaves following small talk, before Peet beats the crap out of Culkin.

Luckily, Danes finds it adorable that Igby’s had his arse handed to him by a girl, and promptly bangs him while Badly Drawn Boy plays. No judgement here, at least it’s consensual this time. Their pillow talk consists of Danes talking about death while Culkin jokes about mummy problems, so it’s basically Confessions Of A Catcher In The Rye, or Sigmund Freud’s Day Off, and then we have a flashback to Bill Pullman having a full breakdown in front of young Culkin.

Thankfully, this one isn’t played for laughs, and it’s tragically moving seeing him showering in his pyjamas before screaming, crying and smashing a glass door, before confessing to young Culkin: “I feel this great, great pressure coming down on me. Constantly pressing down on me. Crushing me.”

CUT TO: Danes and Culkin throwing water-filled condoms off the rooftop while Igby says his dad’s mental breakdown was basically caused by capitalism and conformism.

Because we can’t veer away from quirky for too long, can we?

The lovers awaken to find Phillippe (wearing a very cool coat), watching them sleep. Creepy enough, but he then gives Danes a lift home, invites himself in, gets a bit drunk while telling her about Pullman’s breakdown, and then kisses her. She kisses him back, and we can all see where this is going.

Meanwhile, topless Amanda Peet shaves her armpits and puts makeup over needle marks in her arms while Culkin and Harris watch. She’s dressing up nice for a meeting with Goldblum.

I suspect this won’t end well.

He doesn’t stand up to greet her, there’s an awkward silence, then he gets up and leaves.

That did not end well.

Elsewhere, Danes and Culkin are talking about going to California and he’s promised to take his high school equivalency exam with her encouragement. Shortly after, Culkin (wearing Pullman’s old suit – nice touch), meets drunk Sarandon who tells him (a) Pullman left him nothing by way of a trust fund before being committed to a mental hospital, and (b) Phillippe and Danes are now officially an item.

By the way, somehow, we’re still not even an hour into this film.

Returning to Goldblum’s flat, Culkin discovers Peet has overdosed on some bad drugs Harris gave her and gets her to the hospital, saving her life. Yay!

Goldblum just gave Culkin a lift back from the hospital and beat the shit out of him on the stairwell for “pissing in the well from which you drink”. Scariest I’ve seen Goldblum since he was a punk rapist in Death Wish. Ryan Phillippe tells Culkin that Gandhi would probably have kicked his arse too, if he’d had to spend any time with him, which made me laugh.

Culkin’s reciting Pullman’s “pressure” monologue and hallucinating his dad in the corner while lying in bed. Spaceballs and Independence Day aside, was Pullman ever really appreciated as an actor? He’s very good in this, great everyman quality.

Now Culkin’s crying outside Danes’ door, but she’s more interested in Phillippe because they’re the same age. She doesn’t mention it, but Culkin’s haircut looks really weird in profile, so that might be an issue too. Phillippe walks past him in the doorway and tells him “you’re just a glutton for punishment aren’t you, Igs?”, and right on cue, here’s a Coldplay song (called it!) as Culkin enjoys a classic, bloodied, sad walk around New York.


Somehow, Culkin is now a drug delivery boy. His first drop is to his old teacher – one of the women from Sex And The City – and a Poundland Elliot Gould-a-like. Culkin’s living with Jared Harris and a drag artist who’s upset about running out of cereal. Oh, and he’s told his mum is dying, but doesn’t seem to care.

So edgy.

Peet’s gone ‘Full Junkie’ now, and Culkin has to shake her awake on the toilet. Not a euphemism, but her heroin use is almost played for laughs.

So damned edgy.

Sarandon’s ready to let Phillipe and Culkin euthenise her to avoid a drawn-out death, and Culkin announces to Danes “I’m going to DC this weekend to kill my mother,” and she barely reacts.

Did I mention how edgy this film is?

Danes calls Culkin “a furious boy” and he tells her “I’m drowning in assholes”. Now, I’ve definitely used that line on several occasions since this came out, so this isn’t one of the Late Viewings that I’ve never watched!

Culkin watches while Phillippe feeds Sarandon drugged yoghurt (she’s unhappy that it’s strawberry, of course), and a tear falls down her cheek before she tells Igby that Goldblum – not Pullman – is his father. Culkin plays this really well, wrapping himself in her coat and staring out the window, then – once she’s dead – finally dropping his cooler-than-cool attitude and letting loose his emotions as he wails and punches his mother’s bed as Phillippe does his comatose-calm look and drinks.

Less than two minutes later, Igby’s cheerfully dialling everyone in the phonebook to gleefully tell them his mother is dead, and we discover his real name is Jason. There was mention a while back that he had a teddy called Digby as a kid which he’d blame for every bad thing he did, but frankly, it’s tough to care.

There’s a touching moment between the brothers as Phillippe tells him “I don’t hate you, don’t be indulgent”, then Culkin tries for a hug but ends up awkwardly knocking a Bloody Mary out of his hand, then we’re into the funeral soundtracked by Travis (I knew it!), covering The Band.

There’s a quick visit to Pullman in his mental hospital (who shows no sign of recognising or acknowledging Culkin), then Igby’s on a flight to California, at peace, with the sunlight already on his face.

Thoughts on the movie…

There’s a lot to like about Igby Goes Down – the cast are all terrific, and considering the number of stars in the film, it rarely feels showy. When the dialogue is good, it’s very good, and for a modestly-budgeted, New York-set movie, it looks expensive. But, like it’s spiritual cousin Catcher In The Rye, it leaves me a little cold.

Danes’ character has this trait where instead of laughing at Culkin’s world-class humour (like when he calls himself “Pavlov’s pothead” while they share a ‘getting to know you’ spliff in Central Park), she just smiles and says “that’s funny”.

It feels a lot like that’s a problem with this film – aside from the occasional spit-take and pratfalls, the laughs aren’t really there, so it’s down to the script to flat out tell us when to laugh.

Culkin is likeable enough, haplessly drifting from incident to incident, but it genuinely feels a little like the whole thing isn’t as smart or funny as it thinks it is, and it uses dry, sarcastic humour to cover its emotions.

Hang on… that sounds a little familiar. Perhaps that’s why I bought it, it reminded me of me!

The Verdict…

It’s well made, if a little over-confident, and it was an entertaining Late Review, but will I rewatch this film? No, probably not.

Would I recommend it? Yeah, absolutely, although it’s definitely an acquired taste.

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