#239 The Ice Storm

(1997, Ang Lee)

“Your family is the void you emerge from, and the place you return to when you die”

Movies about suburban discord aren’t unusual, since there’s something very seedy about the shiny, happy image of identical houses and perfectly trimmed gardens, with all sense of a dark side hidden away. We saw this exploration in American Beauty, but it was far from the first movie of its kind. In 1997, Ang Lee adapted Rick Moody’s novel of suburban breakdown at the end of the 1970s, The Ice Storm, and turned it into the movie we’ll be taking a look at today.

The movie centres around two neighbouring families living in Connecticut, the Hoods and the Carvers. Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) and Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver) are having an affair, although not one that’s filled with much passion, and Elena Hood (Joan Allen) suspects something but wants Ben to admit it himself.

Meanwhile, the Hoods’ son, Paul (Tobey Maguire) is returning home for Thanksgiving but intends to head back up to New York briefly to try and win over a girl named Libbets Casey (Katie Holmes). The daughter, Wendy Hood (Christina Ricci), is experimenting with her sexuality and plays sexual games with the Carvers’ sons, Mikey (Elijah Wood) and Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd).

Surrounding all this is the Watergate scandal, signifying the changing political landscape, and of course, the oncoming ice storm of the title.

I fully expected to hate The Ice Storm. The story sounded like it had far too much happening in it, and the opening scenes weren’t exactly helping with the situation. The movie is a slice-of-life work, and as such it just starts without too much of an introduction beyond Paul comparing his family to the Fantastic Four, and ends up being quite a slow-burner.

Early scenes are very disjointed, and initially it’s hard to tell where the events are all happening in relation to each other. The opening scene is midway through the ice storm, before it cuts back in time a few days before Paul has returned home. But these following scenes still seem to feature time skips so it takes a while to start putting them together.

That said, once you start putting them together, this disjointed time seems almost deliberate, as if it’s not the time itself that matters but rather the emotions that are felt in the time we witness. This is not a story about specific events, but about personalities and how they clash, even within families.

So, for a movie that’s so focused on character over plot, it needs to have well-defined characters, and I’m happy to say that they definitely are. While no character is particularly stand-out in their writing, it’s the cast that brings them to life and turns them into real people.

I don’t think I’ve ever disliked Sigourney Weaver or Christina Ricci (even when she’s in a terrible, terrible film), so it comes as no surprise to me that they’re both excellent here too. Weaver is great as the suburban housewife who wants to make life more exciting but really isn’t sure how to do so, and Ricci’s deliberately monotone performance is almost creepy.

Kline is also surprisingly good too. After an initially expected comic start, his performance becomes more nuanced as the movie progresses and proves he’s not just a comedy actor. Maguire was also delightfully awkward in his attempts to win over the girl of his dreams, and these scenes were some of the best in the movie.

The Ice Storm is a very good-looking movie too. For a movie set in such a drab, uninteresting place, the cinematography is rather excellent. Once the ice storm hits, it gets even better, with coldness leaking into every corner of the screen. Just watching it made me shiver at times.

And just like the storm itself, a genuine liking of this movie hit me without warning. A very fine movie with very fine performances, and a shining example of where emotions can carry a whole film.

Starring Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Jamey Sheridan, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood & Adam Hann-Byrd
Written by Rick Moody (novel) and James Schamus
Produced by Ang Lee, James Schamus & Ted Hope
Music by Mychael Danna
Cinematography by Frederick Elmes
Edited by Tim Squyres

Favourite Scene: Paul’s attempts to win over Libbets and get his roommate out of the picture using sleeping pills, and how it all goes horribly wrong.
Scene That Bugged Me: Not sure the opening scene worked, since it just made all the following scenes seem out of time from each other.

Watch it if: You want to see a less brutal American Beauty
Avoid it if: You’re expecting a disaster movie

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Posted on November 30, 2013, in 1990s, Drama and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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