More aptly named than it’s prepared to acknowledge, “The Ice Storm’s” glacial saga of New England WASPs behaving badly is as frigid as its name. Burdened with a story of some of the world’s least interesting people going through a holiday crisis, director Ang Lee and screenwriter James Schamus get as close as any creative team could to making matters involving, but the task is finally too much for them.
The Taiwanese-born Lee, whose last film was “Sense and Sensibility,” finds the milieu of repressed New Canaan, Conn., during 1973’s Thanksgiving weekend as fascinating as the remote interior of Papua, New Guinea, and though he, production designer Mark Friedberg, costume designer Carol Oditz and set decorator Stephanie Carroll carefully mimic the period, they can’t succeed in making it our concern.
Based on a novel by Rick Moody, “The Ice Storm” is filled, in case anyone should miss the point, with images of frost ranging from the natural event of its title to ice cubes in a tray. Father Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) is having an inept and unsatisfactory affair with neighbor Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), a predatory suburban virago whose husband Jim (Jamey Sheridan) is often out of town. And though mother Elena Hood (Joan Allen) does no more than suspect this truth, she’s still edginess itself and, like almost everyone else in the film, apparently has forgotten how to smile.
Aside from its final storm, “The Ice Storm’s” turning point is that relic of suburbia past, a wife-swapping key party, where the men put their car keys in a bowl and the women go home with (gasp!) the man whose keys they select. The film treats this tedious event as reverentially as Margaret Mead did the coming of age rituals of Samoa, even though the tribe in question is so off-putting the anthropologist would likely have fallen asleep or fled in terror.
The setting has mandated a terribly constrained style of performance for all concerned, encouraging the actors to tiptoe through their words as rigidly as highly choreographed marionettes on the end of a string. Typically hamstrung is Kline, so delightful in farce, who comes off fatuous and close to boring here. Only the blessedly reliable Allen manages to make something real and human out of her character. Otherwise, when one of her co-stars says, “This has been kind of a discouraging evening,” it’s difficult not to nod in agreement. xxxx The Ice Storm Location: Lincoln Heights cinemas Credits: Directed by Ang Lee, starring Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Jamey Sheridan, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Adam Hann-Byrd, Tobey Maguire Running time: 1:53 Rating: R