Hey, everyone! It’s time for the second course of Dysfunctional Family Thanksgiving! I hope you enjoyed the first course, The Myth of Fingerprints, though I’m guessing it might have been a little obscure for some people’s tastes. This week we have another film from 1997, albeit one that’s set in 1973: The Ice Storm. (I promise next week’s course isn’t another depressing movie produced by James Schamus.)
I saw The Ice Storm in the theater and remember being really affected by it. In fact I couldn’t get it out of my mind for days after, so I had to go see it again. Then I had to buy the book by Rick Moody, which I also loved.
Exquisitely directed by Ang Lee, The Ice Storm is about two neighboring, dysfunctional Connecticut families and their attempts to deal with the tumult and changes happening in their lives — and the world in general — through alcohol, drugs, and sex.
The film centers on the Hoods — Ben (Kevin Kline) and Elena (Joan Allen) and their teenage children, Paul (Tobey Maguire) and Wendy (Christina Ricci) — and their neighbors in suburban Connecticut, the Carvers — Jim (Jamey Sheridan) and Janey (Sigourney Weaver) and their teenage sons, Mikey (Elijah Wood) and Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd).
Ben and Elena’s marriage is strained, and up until recently, they’ve been in couples therapy. He feels as though she’s too distant and doesn’t give him the attention he needs, while she’s bored and unsatisfied with her life as a housewife. Jim and Janey also have a troubled marriage but seem content just ignoring the problem. To top it all off, Janey and Ben are having an affair, of which their spouses are suspicious.
Then there are the kids. Wendy and Mikey have been secretly messing around, which makes his younger brother, Sandy, jealous, since he has a thing for Wendy. In addition to being fascinated by her, Sandy has a bit of an obsession with violence, particularly when it comes to blowing things up. Paul, who attends school away from home, is in his own world and fairly withdrawn from the goings-on between the rest of his family and the Carvers. He’s more interested in experimenting with drugs with his roommate, Francis (David Krumholtz), and trying to get his crush, Libbets Casey (Katie Holmes), to notice him.
All the troubles the Hoods and Carvers are having culminate the day after Thanksgiving. After he pisses Janey off during one of their midafternoon trysts at her house and she leaves, Ben catches Wendy and Mikey fooling around in the Carvers’ basement, which embarrasses Mikey and annoys Wendy. Paul decides to take the train into New York City for a date — or so he thinks — with Libbets (Katie Holmes), only to find that Francis has crashed the party.
For the adults, there’s the annual post-Thanksgiving party at the home of the Halfords (Allison Janney and Rob Westenberg). After spending much of the evening arguing, Ben and Elena arrive at the Halfords’ to find that this year’s bash is a “key party”: Everyone drops their car keys in a bowl at the beginning of the night, and at the end, the wives fish the keys out randomly. Whichever husband “belongs” to those keys gets to go home with that wife. The ’70s were a swingin’ time.
Ben and Elena are initially uncomfortable with the idea, but they eventually decide to stay and play along. The night goes badly, though, as Elena and Jim can’t help but notice the glances between their spouses, and Ben gets jealous when he spies Janey flirting with another, much younger man.
Meanwhile, the kids are finding their own trouble to get into. As a dangerous ice storm begins, Mikey decides to call Wendy and see if she wants to hang out. She makes her way over to the Carvers’, but finds that Mikey has left to wander around the neighborhood in the storm. Wendy decides to hang out with Sandy; the two start drinking vodka, which leads to them crawling into bed together naked.
Meanwhile, in the city, Paul discovers he’s the only one who’s still sober and awake after Libbets and Francis take some meds they found in her parents’ medicine cabinet. He’s disappointed in the turn the evening has taken, but he uses Libbets’s unconscious state as an excuse to confess his feelings for her.
Back at the key party, Ben has gotten really drunk. When it comes time for the ladies to choose keys to determine who they’ll pair up with for the night, he gets upset when Janey chooses someone else’s keys; he tries to protest but winds up tripping and hitting his head on a coffee table. Embarrassed, he retreats to the bathroom, where he stays for the rest of the party.
The guests continue to pair off, leaving only Jim and Elena. She takes his keys from the bowl and gives them back to him. They then decide to leave together, engaging in a clumsy sexual encounter in the front seat of his car. Regretting the line they’ve crossed, Jim agrees to drive Elena home.
Then there’s Mikey. While out gallivanting in the ice storm, things go terribly wrong. I’m not going to spoil that plot point for you, but what happens to him changes the lives of the Hoods and the Carvers forever, making them all realize what they have — and what they have to lose.
The Ice Storm wasn’t much of a commercial success in theaters, but it was a hit with critics and discerning filmgoers. Various members of its cast were nominated for awards, with Sigourney Weaver getting the most attention, including a Golden Globe nod for best supporting actress. The screenplay, written by James Schamus, was also nominated for several awards and won Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival, though the film was completely overlooked at the Academy Awards in ’98.
Since I’m a big fan of the movie and the book, I just had to have The Ice Storm‘s soundtrack album. It features two pieces from Mychael Danna’s brilliant, haunting score as well as most of the songs that appear in the film. While almost all the songs are from the period in which the story takes place, there’s the curious inclusion of the David Bowie track “I Can’t Read,” which plays over the end credits. (The song first appeared on Tin Machine’s debut in 1989, but Bowie recorded a new version for The Ice Storm.)
Of course, as is usually the case, there are quite a few songs that were in the movie that didn’t make it onto the soundtrack album. Naturally, I rounded them up just for you. Listen, then wash down this second course of Soundtrack Saturday: Dysfunctional Family Thanksgiving with a stiff glass of bourbon.
Frank Zappa – Dirty Love
Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd – Samba Triste
Wendy Carlos – Two-Part Invention in B-Flat Major
Malo – Suavecito
Wilson Pickett – Sugar Sugar
Jim Croce – I Got a Name
Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose – Too Late to Turn Back Now
Bobby Bloom – Montego Bay
Antônio Carlos Jobim – O Grande Amor
Harry Nilsson – Coconut
Traffic – Light Up or Leave Me Alone
Sammi Smith – Help Me Make It Through the Night
Free – Mr. Big
Les McCann and Eddie Harris – Compared to What
Elton John – Levon
Gerry Mulligan – Night Lights
David Bowie – I Can’t Read
Score by Mychael Danna: