Contrary to what the title may have you believe, Igby Goes Down is not a sex comedy. It's a comedy with plenty of sex in it, but it's not a sex comedy. Schoolboy smut is most definitely beneath this sophisticated little number, its gallery of flunkies, eccentrics and socialites all mouthing droll, oh-so-ironic dialogue.
At its heart is Kieran Culkin as Igby, a Holden Caulfield-alike who's been ejected from every school going. Bent out of shape by his family - - pill-popping mom Susan Sarandon, schizophrenic dad Bill Pullman, supercilious older brother Ryan Phillippe - - he thinks the world is full of phonies.
And he's right. Entering the employ of slick godfather Jeff Goldblum in New York, Igby meets an assortment of narcissistic screwballs by way of proof. Claire Danes is a sardonic student; Amanda Peet lolls around as a junkie; and Jared Harris pops up as a pretentious performance artist.
So why care, if everyone on show is a shit? Because they know they're shits, trading witticisms (""She hates men."" ""Lesbian?"" ""No, failed heterosexual."") with a self-congratulation masked by affected boredom. It's a game they must play, not so very different to 18th-century French courtesans trading brilliant insults in Patrice Leconte's Ridicule, their barbed wit shutting out the real world, the real pain.
It's a game that Igby hasn't mastered. Which is also why we should care, for beneath this mannered misfit is a wounded teenager. Culkin's accomplished performance allows us to glimpse the scars unaided, but a poignant soundtrack (Badly Drawn Boy, Coldplay, Dandy Warhols) is on hand to underscore his pain. That it's so sparingly used says much for the actor's ability.
Igby won't be to everyone's taste, one man's precocious being another's precious. Go with it though and you can congratulate yourself on unearthing a surprise treat. Just don't show it.