Reviewed by Ken Fox

Finding inspiration in such films as Mike Nichols's THE GRADUATE (1967) and CARNAL KNOWLEDGE (1971), actor-turned-director Burr Steers's debut feature is a throwback to the kind of literate, melancholy coming-of-age dramas that once defined youthful male angst. The film even opens with a morbid scenario that wouldn't have been out of place in Hal Ashby's HAROLD AND MAUDE: Seventeen-year-old Jason Slocumb Jr. (Kieran Culkin) — dubbed "Igby" by his seriously dysfunctional upper-crust family — watches as his well-heeled older brother, Oliver (Ryan Phillippe), suffocates their unconscious mother, Mimi (Susan Sarandon), with a plastic bag. But, as the film proceeds to demonstrate, what appears to be a case of matricide among the rich and WASPy turns out be something else entirely. Shleppy, preppy and thoroughly incorrigible, Igby has been tossed out of nearly every private school on the Eastern seaboard, and Mimi is at the end of her already short tether. A cold, cruel, D.C. socialite with about as much patience for Igby as she had for his schizophrenic, now-institutionalized father (Bill Pullman), Mimi hands Igby off to his godfather, financial fat cat D.H. (Jeff Goldblum), for the summer. D.H. takes Igby to New York where, during the week, Igby will bunk with Oliver and help renovate the spacious Soho loft D.H. is fixing up for his mistress, Rachel (Amanda Peet). Igby will spend weekends at D.H.'s summer home in the Hamptons. It's there that Igby meets Sookie Saperstein (Claire Danes), a prematurely world-weary Bennington coed who's taking a semester off to "recuperate from life." Igby soon ditches Oliver, hides out in Rachel's loft and sets about seducing Sookie. Wandering NYC in a floppy, olive-drab parka, fingerless gloves and striped knitted scarf (standard uniform of disaffected teenagers everywhere), Igby tells Sookie he's "preparing to leave," but where he's going he hasn't a clue. Set in contemporary New York and Washington, the film lacks the turbulent social context of the 1950s and '60s that lent resonance to the personal uncertainties of Igby's forebears — Holden Caulfield, Ben Braddock, et al. But Culkin has a way with quip-heavy dialogue that transforms what might otherwise have been irritatingly solipsistic posing into a great performance. If Simon and Garfunkel were still together, Steers would no doubt have begged them to do the score. Instead, the soundtrack features the sensitive modern sounds of Coldplay, Badly Drawn Boy and The Beta Band.