In his next film since Sense and Sensibility, director Ang Lee tackles another literary project, though this one is radically different. The Ice Storm is based on the novel by Rick Moody, a snapshot of Thanksgiving weekend, 1973.
Ice Storm follows the lives of two suburban families over the holiday weekend. Ben and Elena Hood (Kevin Kline and Joan Allen) are a couple that are drifting apart. Ben is having an affair with his neighbor, Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), and Elena is begining to suspect. She’s going through a crisis of her own, lonely and longing for her youth.
However, youth isn’t all its cracked up to be, and the Hood children know that all too well. Paul Hood (Tobey Maguire) is stuck at boarding school, and is torn between his Fantastic Four comic books (which hold all the answers to life) and a girl he particularly likes. Wendy Hood (Christina Ricci) wants desperately to be a grown-up. She’s fascinated by politics (of the left, of course), and dabbles with sexual experimentation.
The objects of her affection are none other than the boys next door, Mikey (Elijah Wood) and Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd). The two boys grow up mostly unsupervised by their parents, the bored Janey, and her brilliant but boring husband, George (Henry Czerny).
The film is, in essence, a portrait of moral decay. As the children try to be like adults, the adults try to be like children, and neither is truly certain of what to do.
The film is deftly supported by strong performances from adults and kids alike. Christina Ricci, in particular, handles her role with ease and proves that, when she applies herself, she can be a very good actress.
The film’s failing is that we never get close enough to the characters. We almost start to understand them, and then are frozen out at the last moment. The film’s climactic events, as a result, are a perplexing engima, rather than a conclusive revelation.
However, with good direction, and excellent acting, The Ice Storm paints a vibrant picture of suburban life in the early 70s. And although it is to the film’s credit that you want to know the characters better, it never takes you there.