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Film / The Ice Storm

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The Ice Storm is a 1997 drama directed by Ang Lee and starring Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, and Katie Holmes. The film is an adaptation of the 1994 novel of the same name by Rick Moody.

The film is set in the wealthy suburb of New Canaan, Connecticut, during Thanksgiving week (late November) of 1973, and chronicles the interactions and stresses between two dysfunctional families. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, the adults seek escapism through alcohol, infidelity, and swingers parties, while the teenage children experiment with drugs and sex.

In the film, Ben Hood (Kline) is dissatisfied with his job in New York City and is cheating on his wife Elena (Allen) with their neighbor Janey Carver (Weaver), who is herself bored with her marriage to Jim, who is frequently out of town on business trips. Elena has also grown bored with her marriage to Ben and is looking for new experiences. The Hoods and the Carvers each have two adolescent children. The Hoods have 16-year-old Paul (Maguire) and 14-year old Wendy (Ricci), while the Carvers have Mikey (Wood) and his younger brother Sandy. Paul, who attends a boarding school in New York City, is a shy but amiable comic-book nerd who is trying drugs and trying to get into the pants of his pretty classmate Libbets Casey (Holmes). Wendy is politically conscious and starting to experiment sexually with both Mikey and Sandy. Mikey is lonely but willing to play along with Wendy's sexual games. Sandy is also attracted to Wendy, and likes to blow things up with firecrackers. Shortly after the holiday, the titular ice storm hits the region and brings a lot of the characters' issues to a climax.

This film contains examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Released in 1997, set in October 1973. Also goes for the book, which was set in the same period but released in 1994.
  • The '70s: The film is set in 1973, and the characters' fashions and conversation topics (about the Watergate scandal, for example) reflect this.
  • Actor Allusion: The "Grace" that Wendy says at Thanksgiving dinner is suspiciously similar to the speech Wednesday Addams gives before the Thanksgiving play in Addams Family Values. Both characters are played by Christina Ricci.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: Wendy hooks up with boys and girls in the novel, but only boys in the film.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Paul and Wendy call each other "Charles".
  • Artistic License: Fantastic Four #141 has a December 1973 cover date, and went on sale in September. In no case is it factually correct to say that it was published in November.
  • Auto Erotica: Elena has sex with Jim in his car.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Hoods and the Carvers discuss a shocking new type of party called a "key party".
  • Coming of Age Story: For the teenage characters. The films recounts their first experimentations with drugs and alcohol, their first crushes and sexual experiences, and their first experience with grief and death.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: Mikey is a special teenager who is absent-minded. Wendy has a crush on him. He dies in the end.
  • Death of a Child: Mikey dies in the end. He gets electrocuted when a power line breaks up.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Even if the ice storm is showed from the beginning of the film, the sudden death of Mikey, caused by the break-up of a power line, still qualifies as one, because such a tragic consequence of the bad weather was not expectable.
  • Discreet Drink Disposal: Paul discreetly disposes of the sleeping pill that he pretended to be a psychotropic drug.
  • Ensemble Cast: There is no protagonist, but six equally important characters: Ben, Elena, Janey, Jim, Paul, Wendy, Mikey, and Sandy.
  • Fille Fatale: 14-year old Wendy knows how to use her sex appeal to tease Mikey and Sandy Carver.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on a highly-regarded 1994 novel of the same name by Rick Moody.
  • Hollywood New England: The story is set in the very rich town of New Canaan, Connecticut.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: The teenagers only think about sex in this film. Paul and Francis try to charm Libbets. Wendy starts to experiment sexually with both Mikey and Sandy. Besides, the adults have the same obsession.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The movie is set in the run-up to Thanksgiving, and is about familial and relationship breakdown in the suburbs.
  • Hostile Weather: The ice storm that hits the town near the end of the film.
  • How We Got Here: The film starts with Paul reading a comic book in a broken down train. This scene actually happens at the end of the story. Then, most of the film is a Flashback, which starts a few days earlier.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Wendy and Mikey are experimenting sexually when Wendy's dad shows up.
  • Just Friends: Paul is in love with Libbets. He starts telling her that she is very special for him. She answers that she feels the same about him: she regards him as her brother.
  • Nixon Mask: Wendy dons one while playing with Mikey.
  • Pair the Spares: Zig Zagged. In the beginning, Ben cheats on his wife Elena with Janey. At the key party, Elena has sex with Jim, Janey's husband, but this is only after Janey stopped her relationship with Ben.
  • Parents Walk In at the Worst Time: Wendy's dad walks in on Wendy and Mikey.
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: Played for Drama, and a couple of laughs, with the key party late in the film.
  • Phoneaholic Teenager: Wendy takes the phone in her bed and her father has to take it from her when he comes back at night with Elena.
  • Playing Doctor: Wendy will show Sandy hers if he shows her his.
  • Rearrange the Song: David Bowie recorded a new version of the Tin Machine track "I Can't Read" for the film, based on an earlier, unreleased re-recording made during the sessions for Earthling (the earlier one would later be included on the 2022 EP Is It Any Wonder?).
  • Red Riding Hood Replica: Wendy, the fourteen-year-old Fille Fatale, wears a red hooded cloak to the walk to the Carver house (through the woods).
  • Shout-Out:
    • In the train, Paul is reading Fantastic Four #141 and he comments on it.
    • In class, Libbets and Paul study Fyodor Dostoevsky. Then Paul advises her to read The Idiot.
    • Elena goes to an outdoor library book sale. Among the books on sale, there is Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness, Albert Camus's Resistance, Rebellion and Death and Erica Jong's Fear of Flying. Probably not a coincidence.
    • Janey is reading Philip Roth's When She Was Good on her bed when her husband comes back home.
  • Sibling Triangle: Both Mikey and his younger brother Sandy are attracted by Wendy. They both experiment sexually with her.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Paul pretends that sleeping pills are a psychotropic drug, so that Francis take them and falls asleep. Unfortunately, Libbets wants to take one too and she falls asleep too.
  • Snow Means Death: More precisely, the ice storm means death. While everything may look beautiful covered in ice, in reality ice-covered roads, train tracks, and electrical wires can all be extremely dangerous.
  • Squick: In-universe, Elena's reaction to Philip's unfortunate word choice:
    Philip: Sometimes the shepherd needs the company of the sheep.
    Elena: I'm going to try hard not to understand the implications of that.
  • Stepford Suburbia: The story is set in the very rich town of New Canaan, Connecticut. However, adults and teenagers are highly dysfunctional.
  • Symbolic Glass House: The Carvers live in a modernist glass house. There's some emphasis on Sandy blowing up his model planes. They're also an unhappy, crumbling family, where Janey is cheating on Jim, and then Jim cheats on her.
  • The Talk: Ben tries to talk to Paul about masturbation. He is very awkward and Paul finally tells him that he is 16, meaning that he already knows about it.
  • Thanksgiving Episode: The film is set during Thanksgiving week, family-oriented period. It is a time of tension and internal conflict for the Hoods and the Carvers.
  • When You Coming Home, Dad?: Jim is a Workaholic and he is rarely at home. When he comes back from a business trip, he tells his sons that he is back, but Mikey had not even noticed that his father was on a trip.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Ben and Elena's reaction when they learn their son Paul is interested in a girl named Libbets.
  • Workaholic: Jim is one. He is rarely at home. He spends a lot of time in the office and he is often on business trips.