Writer/actor Burr Steers gives Catcher in the Rye a modern New York spin in Igby Goes Down, an obnoxious coming-of-age saga whose ironic characters may as well be rejects from Andy Warhol’s Factory. Igby (Kieran Culkin) has the worst family in the world: his godfather D.H. (Jeff Goldblum) is a “parody”; his brother Oliver (Ryan Phillippe) is a Republican; his alcoholic father Jason (Bill Pullman) just checked into an insane asylum; and his pill-popping mother Mimi (a thoroughly frightening Susan Sarandon) loves to sit on the maid’s face. Too smart-alecky for a kid without a high school diploma, Igby trades military school for a stay in New York, no doubt hoping to find himself amid the baggage the director drops on the poor sap’s lap. Though his boorish brother calls him a “glutton for fucking punishment,” the relatively enlightened Igby is merely Steers’s punching bag (indeed, the boy is all but beaten to a bloody pulp on three different occasions). Caterer’s assistant Sookie (Claire Danes) denies Igby a ciggy at D.H.‘s Hamptons palace only to freely offer her ganja when they bump into each other in SoHo. Soon they’re fucking and exchanging stories about themselves but that’s when proletariat Sookie decides to marry Igby’s brother. More troublesome than the erratic behavior and inexplicable bouts of violence is the self-analysis the film’s repugnant characters are so readily prone to. The smarmy Steers takes joy in surprising his audience with the film’s shocks. The immensely talented Culkin wears the director’s otherwise self-conscious, sarcastic dialogue like a sleeve (the rest of the cast is proportionately less successful) though he remains clueless to what his character’s constant flagellation means. In this respect, Igby Goes Down is as disconcerting as LaBute’s equally nasty though less charming dramedy Your Friends & Neighbors. These evocations of privileged lifestyles on the edge feel wholly disingenuous.
Burr Steers reveals on the Igby Goes Down's commentary track that the film was shot on Super 35, which explains why a film this small looked so good on the big screen. For their DVD edition of the film, MGM Home Entertainment preserves the film's original widescreen format. While the disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 track is perfectly audible, it's the remarkably sharp and colorful video transfer that distinguishes this DVD from other recent MGM video releases. Skin tones are dead on and color saturation is rock solid throughout.
Though some footage for the featurette "In Search of Igby" was lazily culled from the film's junket interviews, this mini-documentary proves to be both concise and mildly entertaining, if only because Kieren Culkin and Amanda Peet surprisingly stand out as the actors with the most insight into the film's material. Though Burr Steers and Culkin provide lively and engaging commentary over the film itself-ripe with jokes and endless on-set tales-Steers's commentary for the film's mostly odious deleted scenes proves that there really was no limit to just how gratuitously cruel his material could get.
Sadists, masochists, wife beaters and child abusers of the world rejoice: on home video, you can savor every last prod and punch Kieran Culkin receives in this malicious film.