The Ice Storm Reviews
Started very well. First half was great - quirkily funny with some great oddball family drama. Characters had depth and were engaging. Everything seemed set up for fantastic second half, complete with more quirky comedy and some intriguing family drama.
But, alas, it was not to be.
Second half is pretty dull, even silly, and ends in random anticlimactic fashion. After a largely comedy-driven first half, director Ang Lee gets all serious in the second half, turning the movie into a full-on drama. Laughs become few and far between. Moreover, the drama is dull, pointless and not at all profound. Very disappointing, especially considering how well it was set up.
Can't complain about the cast though. Heaps of big names, some of which weren't that big at the time: Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Tobey Maquire, Christina Ricci (16/17 at the time) and Elijah Wood. We even have Allison Janney and Katie Holmes in minor roles. This was Katie Holmes' first role, in either film or TV.
"The Ice Storm" is a flurry of sexual, drugged out, pathos infused liberties, perfectly capturing the simultaneously free and miserable echoes of its time period. None of the characters are happy, so much so that it seems fairly plausible that they miss the suffocation of the time in which they could mimic "Leave It to Beaver" and be contently empty. Ang Lee, pre-"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and post-"Sense and Sensibility", directs "The Ice Storm" not as a head-shaking cynic but as a voyeur helpless when approached by the lost decisions of Rick Moody's characters.
Taking place over the Thanksgiving weekend of 1973, "The Ice Storm" puts in motion a parade of maladjusted actions, specifically focusing on the Hood family and their neighbors, the Carvers. Mrs. Hood (Joan Allen) has picked up a shoplifting habit and is hardly speaking to her husband; Mr. Hood, in the meantime, is having a soulless affair with Mrs. Carver (Sigourney Weaver). And as Mr. Carver (Jamey Sheridan) busies himself with out-of-town business ventures, the kids of the families mostly hang around his home. Wendy Hood (Christina Ricci), a sexually curious 14-year-old, is in the process of attempting to seduce both Carver sons (Elijah Wood, Adam Hann-Byrd), either through make out sessions or show-me-yours-I'll-show-you-mine romps. The older Hood child, Paul (Tobey Maguire), is away at prep school, experimenting with drugs and attempting to win the heart of the damaged Libbets Casey (Katie Holmes). All of these characters are like trains ready to derail, and as an upcoming ice storm looms in the clouds, ready to destroy the premises, their emotions begin to mount until they reach an existential breaking point.
"The Ice Storm" is not the kind of film you analyze, the kind you have all figured out before the closing tells you otherwise. This is a movie you want to observe, to listen to, to discuss later but savor in the moment. The plot is complicated, sure to tangle - but it effortlessly connects the dots like a well-guided Altman epic, brilliant in its conception and brilliant in how well each side-plot complements the other. It's a movie of heightened discontent, one in which the characters attempt to escape by utilizing their newfound freedoms (sex, alcohol, drugs) but realize that, deep inside, a larger void is waiting to be filled and material things can hardly do the job. The film causes an ache in our heart, partly because it's difficult to see people suffer so intensely and partly because we are just as much in the dark regarding how to end their misery as they are. They feel helpless, we feel helpless - it's a vicious cycle that stays unforgettable.
The performances are phenomenal, the actors embodying their roles instead of keeping a safe distance away from them. "The Ice Storm" is a movie built on emotion and life-is-comedy situations, not worn out melodramatic devices - Lee, certainly one of the most versatile directors of the last two decades, keeps melancholy pumping and solution at a safe distance; in Tinsel Town, it's easy to invent a resolution for the sake of a happy ending. But things aren't so simple in "The Ice Storm" - agony is much more common than glittered fuckery.
Kevin Kline is sleeping with married Sigourney Weaver next door. She's using him for the sexual excitement she no longer feels with her husband, he thinks it's for real. His wife played by the sublime Joan Allen is a repressed, shoplifting homemaker looking for a meaning to her adulthood as the kids begin to leave the house. The kids are fantastic too. Christina Ricci owns her role as their politically minded daughter complete with toe socks and a desire to deflower as many boys as possible just to stick it to dear old dad. Elijah Wood is her main target - and Weaver's son. And Tobey Maguire, then unknown, is perfect as Kline's son, coming home from school for the holiday weekend and counting the minutes to get away from the tension.
The mood of the 70's is captured in the precise production design, costuming and plotting which includes lots of pot-smoking dinner parties, period musical cues and a Saturday night key party that is unforgettable. All of this hedonism of course leading to a terrible twist of fate as all the characters find themselves imperiled by their choices and the titular storm of the century. Rare is the film that grows in richness over the years the way this one has.
The entire cast is perfection down to great supporting players like Allison Janney and Henry Czerny as more swinging neighbors and Katie Holmes as Maguire's love interest. Weaver won the British Academy Award for her role and was Golden Globe nominated. But while The Chicago Film Critics Circle and the Writers Guild noticed the film's brilliance, this small masterpiece received no Oscar love at all in a highly competitive year. A shame as it's one of the best films of the 1990's, a personal favorite and the best Thanksgiving film ever.