Saturday, November 24, 2012

Film Review: The Ice Storm

The Ice Storm (1997) Directed by Ang Lee, Screenplay by James Schamus based on the novel by Rick Moody.

The Film:

Toward the end of The Ice Storm is a scene that metaphorically captures this film of 1970s family dysfunction, suburban angst, and coming of age. Electrical wires, too long encased in ice, finally snap, leaving a live wire flailing dangerously.

This film, set in 1973 Connecticut, centers around the Hood family: Ben, Elena, 14-year-old Wendy, and 16-year-old Paul. The oppressive silence between Ben and Elena guards them from the unspoken realization that their marriage is about to implode. The long-frozen emotions in their relationship, of course, are the elephant in the room. The kids talk about it, tentatively, when their parents are of of earshot. But when Ben or Elena walks in, you can feel the air being sucked out of the room.

Their lives are intertwined with the Carvers, Jim and Janey and their sons Mike and Sandy. There's an uncomfortable vibe between Ben Hood and Janey Carver when the couples socialize together. And Jim seems virtually invisible to his wife and sons.

As a side note, there was a moment when a noise erupted at the eerily institutional looking Carver house -- it sounded like gunshots. I felt sick for a moment, thinking: "Oh no ... poor Jim, the invisible man, just killed himself! But no; it was just Sandy blowing up his model planes.

The sexual dynamics of the group take center stage. We see this reflected in 14-year-old Wendy. She engages in innocent, awkward experimentation with the boys next door. Yet behind the innocence, we see an emerging fierceness and aggression in the way she uses her blossoming sexuality. I found it a bit unnerving. Oh, Wendy. The adults in your milieu have taught you well, haven't they?

Having been a child in the 70's myself, I found this portrayal of the era interesting. I think they got the zeitgeist of the period about right, though it was a bit heavy handed, possibly for satirical effect. Watergate. Heavy drinking adults. Sexual liberation. Deeply regrettable choices in fashion and interior decorating.** Parents awkwardly trying to guide their children in a society that no longer makes sense to them.

Avocado green was a splendid choice for a 1970s kitchen. My parents, on the other hand,opted for tomato red.
One thing that I found weirdly humorous, painful, and probably spot-on was watching the palpable discomfort of adult couples "swinging" at a party. It was obvious that everyone wanted to act like randomly banging other people's spouses was cool and titillating. But seriously? Suffice it to say no one looked like they were having fun. Reactions ranged from uncomfortably awkward to soul-crushingly miserable and sad.

This is an exceptionally well crafted film with gorgeous cinematography and outstanding acting by the whole cast. There were many things it got right, including the difficult, intertwined worlds of middle-aged parents and adolescent children. The mingled curiosity, lust, and loneliness that fuel early teenage sexual experimentation. The well-intentioned efforts of parents to shepherd their kids through adolescence when they've lost their own moral compass. A relationship precariously teetering, with the knowledge that it'll be shattered by a single honest word. What happens when it finally explodes, and all that's left is trying to punish each other? And when something finally happens that forces these adults to act like grown-ups ... what's next?

My Reaction:

I appreciated this movie a great deal, but I didn't love it. I'm not sure why. Maybe I've finally reached my quota of dysfunctional family films. :-) Or perhaps my expectations were too high. After all, this was directed by Ang Lee, creator of Brokeback Mountain, which is on my "brilliant but too heartbreaking for a second viewing" list :-) and The Wedding Party, which my husband and I both loved when we saw it many years ago. Expectations are a tricky thing. However, I do highly recommend this film and consider it a 4/5 star movie.


**Somewhere in this house, I have a very sweet picture of myself and my family circa 1973 -- as a group, we are making an unforgettable fashion statement. If I find it, I may post it. If I do, just keep one thing in mind. The first phrase that pops into your head, inevitably, will be "Blackmail Photo." But you must remember this ... I have no significant financial assets.

When I became a teenager, in the 80s, I naturally left all that nonsense behind me. I looked cool! I had my Big Hair and my excessive amounts of eye shadow. Yup. I was cool.


  1. I remember seeing this movie and thinking the same thing: I appreciated it a great deal, but I didn't love it. However, it definitely was one I remembered. I'll be honest that I wasn't thrilled with the book Life of Pi. However, I'd go to see the movie just because of Ang Lee.

    1. Life of Pi seems to be one of those novels that inspires very mixed reactions. If you decide to see the movie, I'd be curious to hear what you think.

  2. I saw this movie ages ago but didn't totally "get" it at the time. Ang Lee, huh? He's an interesting filmmaker. Just saw Life of Pi over the weekend and fell in love.

    1. Ang Lee is a great filmmaker, in my opinion, based on the handful of movies I've seen. I am very curious about Life of Pi, both the book and movie.

  3. Great presentation. I thought this was a good film and it's one of those that you really need to pay attention to while viewing or you miss certain things. I remember being annoyed with Sojourney Weavers character as well as the married man she was sleeping with. They were just so selfish.
    Lol about the avocado green paint, my moms house had plenty of that as well as wood paneling. And don't get me started on the giant record player/speaker type system thingie she had in the living room.

    1. It's great to talk to someone around my own age who knows what I'm talking about. *LOL* I still remember the tomato red kitchen cabinets decorated with multi-colored wallpaper. And yes ... the huge stereo system that took up half the room, not to mention the ugly shag carpets. ;-) Did your mom have a big ass station wagon?

  4. Yay! Glad you liked it. I'm a bit more enthusiastic about it, but I hear what you're saying about dysfunctional family films. I still count this as Ang Lee's best film, but I've only seen Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hulk, Sense and Sensibility, and Life of Pi (which I should be reviewing very soon). He's another director I need to catch up on.

    1. Josh, You and I have a lot of filmographies to catch up on. :-) I might seriously make this a project for the new year. Maybe a "director of the month."

      I'd forgotten that Ang Lee directed Sense and Sensibility -- that was the adaptation with Emma Thompson as Elinor, right? I did like that film -- based on one of my favorite Austen novels.

      Just curious ... why did you choose The Ice Storm as Lee's best film over ... say ... Brokeback Mountain?

      I do recommend The Wedding Banquet. It's been a long time since I saw it, but my husband and I were quite taken with it.

    2. Yeah, that's the version with Emma Thompson.

      I chose The Ice Storm because I feel that Brokeback Mountain is good, but overrated. While it's beautifully made and acted, I fail to see why it's so highly regarded. I like the film overall, but it didn't grab me. Both times I've watched it I've thought "good, but not that good".

  5. I might give this a shot as I LOVE Sense & Sensibility and Ang Lee is amazing at tackling different genres. Not sure if I'll love it but I probably would at least appreciate it.


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