Homage to Holden Caulfield

Film - Philip Kerr doesn't feel like telling us about two new coming-of-age movies

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is who's in these movies and who directed them, and all that Pauline Kael crap, but I don't feel like going into it. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place you probably already understand what I'm talking about. With both of these movies, we're in the misanthropic Manhattan world of that well-known adolescent bore, Holden Caulfield.

Perhaps you remember reading The Catcher in the Rye by some guy who used to write speeches for JFK. If you do remember reading it, then maybe you'll also remember that Holden didn't care for cinema. "If there's one thing I hate," he says, "it's the movies. Don't even mention them to me." That's on page one, which is about where I realised that Holden and I were not going to get along. What kind of adolescent boy doesn't like going to the movies? It's like saying you don't like touching a girl's breasts - because, when you're Holden Caulfield's sex and age, that's one of the reasons you go to the cinema in the first place.

Those more intimately acquainted with Salinger's novel will recall that Holden Caulfield has an older brother, DB, who is a screenwriter in Hollywood, which, in Holden's opinion, makes DB "a prostitute" and which probably helps to explain why Salinger has never wanted to sell the film rights of any of his books to the West Coast meat-grinder.

Holden reveals that one of DB's favourite films is Marcel Pagnol's La Femme du Boulanger (1938). I haven't seen it myself, but the New Statesman's film critic in 1944, one William Whitebait, wrote of the "lucky people, who will be seeing La Femme du Boulanger for the first time". Another of DB's favourites is The Thirty-Nine Steps, the 1935 Hitchcock version, which is the best. All of which seems to suggest that DB (the author of a "terrific book of short stories, The Secret Goldfish") would not have liked Igby Goes Down, starring Macaulay Culkin's younger brother, Kieran.

I must confess that I am rather fond of l'enfant Macaulay, in one picture at least - Home Alone (1990) - and feel rather sorry for any boy whose celebrity lasts only as long as his precocious childhood. To those of you who dislike Macaulay - and you have my understanding, it was downhill all the way after Home Alone - I would merely point you to this new film.

Here, the 21-year-old Culkin sibling plays Igby, a dwarfish, truculent 17-year-old youth who exhibits less charm than is demonstrated by Jack in William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Unlike Jim Stark (James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause), however, rebellious Igby has a cause, albeit one that evokes little sympathy: to leave his rich Upper East Side home and break free from his pill-popping mother (Susan Sarandon). Seduced by sexy older women (frankly it strains all credibility that a babe like Claire Danes would even look twice at a shrimp like Igby) and continually thwarted by his older brother, Igby tries, and fails, to handle the process of growing up.

Perhaps you remember the Dead End Kids in Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) and the way Rocky, played by Jimmy Cagney, slaps them around in the gym, which is indeed the only language they understand. Faced with a wretched, scrofulous youth like Igby, however, I think Cagney could have been forgiven if he'd used a Thompson sub-machine gun.

Holden's brother DB would, I think, have liked Tadpole. Shot on video for a mere $150,000, Tadpole seems to have a lot less going for it; but it's a much more satisfying little picture and has already grossed more than $3m. (If that doesn't sound a lot, consider that it is the equivalent of a $100m studio picture grossing $2bn.) This is another coming-of-age picture, only this one wants to be The Graduate, as opposed to Igby which wants to be The Royal Tenenbaums.

Sixteen-year-old Oscar (played by 22-year-old Aaron Stanford) is sensitive and compassionate - we know this because he speaks French - and, also somewhat unbelievably, older females just seem to gravitate towards him. There's just one problem. Eve, the woman Oscar loves, is his fortysomething stepmother (played by the fiftysomething Sigourney Weaver). This sounds a lot worse than it is. There are some excellent performances, most notably from Bebe Neuwirth as a sexually predatory chiropractor, and some genuine laughs. It's not Hamlet, but it's worth a look.

That's all I'm going to tell you about it. I could probably tell you what other films I've seen this week, what I did when I left the cinema, and what I'm going to see next week, but I don't feel like it. I really don't.

Igby Goes Down (15) and Tadpole (15) are on general release