At least Burr Steers, costar of Stillman's The Last Days of Disco, comes honestly to this genre. He grew up in a playpen made of old money, his uncle is novelist and would-be actor Gore Vidal and his first acting coach was Jeff Goldblum. That both appear in Igby Goes Down, Steers' debut as writer and director -- alongside Susan Sarandon, Ryan Phillippe, Bill Pullman, Amanda Peet and Claire Danes -- is testament to Steers' birthright as much as to his first-timer's tenacity.
Steers' Holden surrogate, nicknamed Igby for a childhood doll, is Jason Slocumb Jr., played by Kieran Culkin (already on view this year as a tortured altar boy with a dangerous life). Igby is a major screw-up. He's been kicked out of prep schools and has skipped away from military school. He has a smart, foul mouth. ("If heaven's such a wonderful place," he asks a priest played by Vidal, "how is getting crucified such a big fucking sacrifice?")
Igby just wants a fresh start, away from family, including his despotic older brother, Oliver (Phillippe, tangled in Ivy League), and his mother (Sarandon), to whom we're introduced while the brothers are force-feeding her narcotics in an effort to induce everlasting slumber. Why Igby is rebelling isn't clear. Perhaps it's because that's what kids his age do when they don't want to take responsibility for their own actions. Igby is repellent, actually, though Steers doesn't judge. He merely observes, with the compassionate grin of someone who just knows.
Steers' characters are such tortured wrecks they teeter on being parodic, which is likely the point. Their behavior is contradictory: Danes' Sookie Sapperstein, who rolls the perfect joint and never laughs, falls for both Igby and Oliver, which is akin to liking Van Halen with David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar. Some character or other is always suffering a breakdown, enduring a bad-smack attack or having the shit beaten out of him. That Steers gives a damn about any of them feels somehow noble; if he weren't there to care for them, to yank the needles from their limp limbs or imbue them with some dignity and decency, they'd likely vanish without a trace.