The Ice Storm (1997) (R)

Suburbia has been a topic of film for a long time. Look at "How Green Was My Valley" and "Mrs. Miniver"—both best picture winners and both are surrounding a family and their neighbors. Though the towns that the families lived in were not by strict definition "suburbs", the point remains the same. Families and how they interact and their community have been on screen since nearly the beginning of film...even "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" was roughly about family and marriage.
But it would be in the 90s that family got a revolution, first with "The Ice Storm" and then with "American Beauty" which ushered in the next decade. But both of these films have something in common—family is twisted, sexual, and chaotic. "The Ice Storm" is a film about family—but certainly not a family film.
Two families live next to each other—the Hood family and the Carver family. Both families have two children, (boy-girl, in the case of the Hoods—boy-boy, for the Carvers) and the parents are on the rocks. At a social gathering, the Hoods joke about how they left marriage counseling and the Carvers don't look like they're getting along too well.
The film focuses on the children more than the adults—"The Ice Storm" begins with Paul Hood (Tobey Maguire) riding home on a train. The train has stopped and is out of power and Paul sits in the dark patiently waiting. It doesn't take too long for the train to regain power and to start wheeling ahead—plowing over the crunching ice that has frozen on the tracks.
Paul makes remarks about "The Fantastic Four" and how they were a family. It's very subtle, but he tells us about how families come together or split apart...and how it will inevitably happen.
Then we go back in time and watch what happens preceding that train ride. Paul is away at collage and helplessly pining over Libbets (Katie Holmes). In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, he's trying to work up the courage to ask her out, but hasn't yet. Back at home, Mr. Hood (Kevin Kline) and Mrs. Hood (Joan Allen) are finding that their relationship is starting to look like a formality rather than an emotion.
Their daughter, Wendy (Christina Ricci), is rebellious in a small way—she steals little sweets from a corner store and is seeing Mikey Carver (Elijah Wood).
Wendy and Mikey are right in the thick of adolescence and certain instances happen that their parents wouldn't appreciate.
Mr. Carver (Jamey Sheridan) and Mrs. Carver (Sigourney Weaver) couldn't be more different. He seems easy going and more relaxed, while she is more uptight and brusque. The way that Sigourney Weaver plays Mrs. Carver is similar to how Faye Dunaway would have treated a role, she's beautiful, icy, and commanding.
The weeks that lead up to Thanksgiving are filled with one odd instance after the other that slowly unwinds the families, one inch at a time.
The film is set in the 70s, though no date is actually given. It's smart the way that it lets you know the time period, the decor for one and what occurs on the television both influence the viewer so subtly that it's a little disturbing.
"The Ice Storm" is not a fun picture, but it is a beautiful one. The sound mixing is particularly wonderful, the sound of ice cracking and crunching fills the air.
This movie would jumpstart many young actor's careers. "The Ice Storm" is one of Ang Lee's first American movies, and it cements that fact that this director can do nearly anything.
"The Ice Storm" is uncomfortable to watch, a revealing work that would rather be swept under the rug.
It's not for everyone, but it is made about everyone.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

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