This unconventional film about a teenage boy struggling to escape the crushing pressures in his life defies categorization. While one could describe it as a dark comedy, it is funny only in places, and then in a desperate, cynical way. But it doesn't take itself as seriously as a true drama. "Igby Goes Down" works best as a film that is what it is: the story of Igby (Kieran Culkin), who has been kicked out of every private school his mother Mimi (Susan Sarandon) has enrolled him in and who goes on the lam to avoid the next one. Igby's father (Bill Pullman) has been in a mental hospital for the past six years, and his mother is a snooty matron dying of breast cancer who spends her time fiercely trying to get Igby into yet another school. His brother Oliver (Ryan Phillippe) is a snobbish self-important Columbia undergrad. Igby's life is truly messed up, and no one can stand to be in his company for long before they feel like hitting him. The one thing Igby has going for him is an often charming wit, and that, combined with so many things beyond his control, endears him to the viewer.
Culkin shows surprising range as Igby, moving convincingly from sarcastic to resourceful to desperate - and back again to sarcastic. Claires Danes is spunky and perfectly edgy as the Bennington drop-out Sookie, and Amanda Peet is even better as the sensual non-dancer dancer and junkie Rachel. Jeff Goldblum turns in a fine performance as DH, Igby's godfather, who, as Oliver says, is finely-tuned for only one thing: making money. Susan Sarandon seems to float through this movie until the end, when she, too, reveals astonishing aspects of her character. Every last character is this film is quirky.
This is an offbeat, unpredictable film that mainstream film goers probably won't like as much as those who gravitate toward the unconventional. Rather than being driven by plot, this is a character movie, with its strength resting in idiosyncrasies, smart dialogue, and acting.