Viking Night: The Ice Storm
By Bruce Hall
February 18, 2014
Excuse me for assuming that having Kevin Kline or Sigourney Weaver as a parent might be cool. I always imagined she could teach me how to drive the yellow death-bot from the end of Aliens. And he could utterly fail to convince me that Will Arnett is not his son. We would live either in a posh Manhattan brownstone, or an orbiting nuclear weapons platform. Ours would be a happy, tight knit family full of fun and laughter, yet also capable of repelling a xenomorph invasion with extreme prejudice. These are the kinds of things my sugar crazed mind came up with when I was a kid. These are the kinds of stupid dreams I had.
And Ang Lee ruined it all with The Ice Storm.
For those not in the know, this would be the film adaptation of the novel by Rick Moody. It would be Ang Lee’s second English language film, so why not follow a stuffy, 18th century classic with a cynical, sexually charged indictment of the upper middle class nuclear family, circa 1973? Not only is there no chance you’ll be accused of repeating yourself, but you’ll get a chance to stretch your legs; maybe set yourself up for an Oscar later. Even without the benefit of hindsight, you could say the combination of a bright young filmmaker on the rise, an ensemble cast of talent both new and established, and critically acclaimed source material combined for one of the better overlooked films of the late 1990s.
One of the cool things about where I live is that the surrounding neighborhood was designed in the 1970s. This means the usual allotment of homes that look like something out of Logan’s Run, and a lot of giant, splintery wood beams placed at unusual angles. But there’s also a series of open spaces and walking trails interlinking the subdivision, so that it feels as much like an open space as a neighborhood. Close your eyes and imagine this arrangement, but spread out more and separated by trees. Then imagine you have the resources for a 5,000 square foot split level home, but not to know that your daughter has more experience with drugs than you do or that your wife has got more miles on her than the family car.
Now open your eyes, and say hello to the Hoods and the Carvers.
The Hoods consist of father Ben (Kevin Kline), who makes good money and thus has lots of friends, but he has the coping skills of a 16-year-old, so his life is an increasingly unfulfilling circus of home avoidance and self-gratification. His wife Elena (Joan Allen) has a maternal streak a mile wide and dresses like a card carrying member of the 700 Club. She seems ideal for a guy like Ben, but deep inside she seems to know what she’s gotten herself into, and could be looking for an excuse to spread her wings. Their son Paul (Tobey MacGuire) literally is Peter Parker. He’s a kind hearted dweeb with a heart of gold who takes constant abuse from everyone he knows, and does so with the good natured humility of a true hero. His best friend is his younger sister Wendy (Christina Ricci), a socially conscious, sexually adventurous teenager whose outrageous behavior belies a heart as callow as her father’s.