The Ice Storm

on September 27, 1997 by Lael Loewenstein
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   A cold, somewhat distant, yet oddly intriguing film from director Ang Lee ("Sense and Sensibility"), "The Ice Storm" is aptly named. Based on Rick Moody's satirical novel, the film, set on Thanksgiving weekend of 1973, portrays two suburban American families who, despite their smiley-faced exteriors, are emotionally frigid.
   Living comfortably in New England, Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) and his wife Elena (Joan Allen) are raising their two teenage kids. They are good friends with their neighbors Janey and Jim Carver (Sigourney Weaver and Jamey Sheridan), although unbeknownst to Elena, Ben is sleeping with Janey. Meanwhile, hormones rage through the Carver and Hood children alike: Wendy Hood (Christina Ricci), buzzing at the prospect of sexual discovery, has set out to seduce both Mikey Carver (Elijah Wood) and his younger brother, while Paul Hood (Tobey Maguire) lusts after a prep school co-ed. Their lies and indiscretions are all revealed one freezing night, in which their region is hit by the worst ice storm in 30 years.
   "The Ice Storm" has several redeeming features: the performances are uniformly solid, the production design and costumes impressively authentic, the direction aptly understated. Ang Lee, who turned his lens on Taiwanese family matters in the comedy "The Wedding Banquet," shows an astute eye for American family politics. Rather than self-consciously announcing its evocation of the 70s, the details of the era come through piecemeal: in conversation (couple-swapping is trendy), on television (Nixon insists that he is not a crook), in their furniture (the Carvers have a waterbed).
   Appropriately, Frederick Elmes' cinematography (he also lensed "Blue Velvet") is crisp and clean, lit in a way that effectively conveys their glacial familial relations. Unfortunately, however, it has the same effect on the viewer. Rather than being moved or transfixed, you feel frozen and impartial, almost as disengaged as the characters themselves.    Starring Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Christina Ricci and Elija Wood. Directed by Ang Lee. Written by James Schamus, adapted from the book by Rick Moody. Produced by James Schamus. A Fox Searchlight release. Drama. Rated R for sexuality and drug use, including scenes involving children, and for language. Running time: 112 min. Screened at Cannes.
Tags: Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood. Directed by Ang Lee. Written by James Schamus, adapted from the book by Rick Moody. Produced by James Schamus. A Fox Searchlight, drama
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