The rich are different from you and me: They have more pillows. That's the message I drew from Igby Goes Down, which opens with Susan Sarandon laid out on satin sheets that must have an exceptionally high thread count. She's playing Mimi Slocumb, mother of Igby Slocumb (Kieran Culkin). And this, we learn over the course of the movie, is the moment Igby's been waiting for his whole life: His mother is about to die. That she will require a gentle push over the great divide only confirms Igby's sense that Mimi's life must end so that his may begin. The result of mixing The Graduate with Reversal of Fortune, Igby Goes Down is a Salingeresque coming-of-age story about rich people and their cheap emotions. Everybody Igby comes across ' everybody in his social class, anyway ' is a complete phony. Only Igby, who's called Igby because "Holden" was already taken, can see through all the hypocrisy. Only Igby is real.
To which I say: Horse manure. With their striped ties and blue blazers, preppies are a dead horse that's been flogged many, many times. And yet writer-director Burr Steers pulls out his whip and goes at it all over again. What was refreshing about Whit Stillman's social comedies of a few years back ' Metropolitan, for instance ' was that Stillman had mixed feelings about debutantes and the trust-fund managers who love them, whereas Steers seems as alienated as Igby is, perhaps even more so. Which might have been okay: It's always enjoyable to watch the upper crust hoist itself on its own petard. But as writer or director (it's hard to tell which), Steers lacks the sense of humor to put this dark comedy over. His witty repartee isn't, really. And the movie's plot is as aimless as Igby's life, which unfolds like a bout of depression.
When you name your leading character Igby, you're asking for both attention and trouble. But Culkin (Macaulay's younger, more talented, brother) nevertheless does a respectable job with the role. As he gets older, Culkin's starting to look like Robert Downey Jr., and although he lacks Downey's quicksilver intelligence, he does have a lip on him, delivering Igby's lines with the right mix of hope and sarcasm. "I'm drowning in assholes," Igby says at one point. It's not a great line, but Culkin almost makes it seem like one ' a cri de coeur from a poor little rich kid who's trying to become a man. In one of the movie's funnier moments, Igby's therapist slaps him. Later, his godfather (Jeff Goldblum, in rare, and yet thoroughly familiar, form) slaps him. And by the time the movie was over, I wanted to slap him, too. It's not that his name's Igby, although that is annoying. It's that when he goes down, he insists on taking us with him.