The Ice Storm

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
The Ice Storm Movie Poster Image
Drug use and sexual content in Ang Lee masterpiece.
  • R
  • 2001
  • 112 minutes

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Kids say

age 18+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

While an excellent film, this story of a dysfunctional family's descent into drugs, alcohol, and extramarital affairs offers little in the way of positive messages.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Teens and preteens drink, take drugs, and engage in sexual experimentation, as their parents drink heavily, have extramarital affairs, and attend a "swingers" party.


SPOILER: A boy running around outside after an ice storm is shown being electrocuted after a nearby power line falls to the ground. A boy packs his model airplanes with M80 fireworks, lights them, then sends them flying so he can watch the explosions.


This film, in part, explores the consequences of adult characters in an upper middle-class suburb during the early 1970s having extramarital affairs. Early in the film, at a dinner party, a woman reaches out for the crotch of a man while pretending to dry off the wine that was spilled on his pants. Adults having affairs are shown in bed after having sex. Teens and preteens are shown sleeping together and openly discussing sex. Adults attend a "key party" in which male characters leave their car keys in a bowl to be drawn at random by women attending the party; whoever's keys the women pick is the man she sleeps with. A teen girl of fourteen tells a preteen boy, "I'll show you mine if you show me yours." A teen girl and preteen boy engage in sexual explorations while under the covers in bed.


Mild profanity throughout the film.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult, teen, and preteen characters drink, smoke, and use drugs throughout the film. Early in the film, two teen boys in a prep school smoke marijuana out of a giant bong. A teen boy is shown drinking from the leftover wine in the kitchen of the dinner party. At an apartment in "the city," three teens drink beer together, then take prescription pills found in the medicine cabinet. A 14-year-old girl drinks vodka, offers some to a preteen boy. She later asks if the boy feels drunk yet.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Ice Storm is a 1997 film based on the novel by Rick Moody; it's an unsparing, unsentimental story, set against the backdrop of Watergate-era malaise, about the implosion of an upper middle class family through extramarital affairs, excessive drinking, and drug use. While it's one of the best films from the 1990s, the teens and preteens in the film engage in drinking, pot smoking, pill taking, and sexual experimentation; while none of this is glamorized, the behavior makes this most suitable for older teens mature enough to see the teens' (and adults') behavior not as fodder for bad ideas to try on their own, but as characters in a movie caught up in the tenor of the times while falling apart through their questionable decisions. Parents also need to know that a major character is shown being electrocuted and that there's some minor profanity.

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Teen, 14 years old Written bygod5555 January 26, 2021


a lot of underage sex with tween and 15.

What's the story?

It's November, 1973, and 16-year-old Paul Hood (Tobey Maguire) has returned home to New Canaan, Connecticut from prep school for Thanksgiving weekend to find his family is falling apart. His father (Kevin Kline) is having an affair with their neighbor Janey Carver (Signourney Weaver), his mother looks to self-help books to deal with her growing awareness of the affair, and his 14-year-old sister Wendy rants about Nixon when not engaged in sexual experimentation with Mikey Carver (Elijah Wood) and his younger brother Sandy. On the night an ice storm effectively shuts down the area, Paul goes into the city to try and win the heart of a classmate (Katie Holmes) he is in love with, while his parents attend a swingers' party with their neighbors. Left to their own devices, Wendy and the Carver kids get into their own misadventures. Each in his or her own way faces alienation and tragedy as a result of trying to embrace the tenor of the times.

Is it any good?

THE ICE STORM is an unforgettable experience. Set against a backdrop of Watergate-era malaise, universal themes of growing up, infidelity, and loneliness are filtered through the prism of a very specific time of 1970s "I'm OK, You're OK" permissiveness. What is conveyed so beautifully and unsparingly is the general awkwardness of innately nervous and uptight upper middle class characters trying to be open-minded about their assorted hedonistic endeavors; the adults are as halting and awkward while trying to swap spouses as the teens and preteens are in their attempts at recreational drug use and sexual experimentation. And wherein so many films tend to glorify and romanticize this behavior and this time period, each and every character in the film is a casualty of the cultural moment and of his or her individual actions. This is achieved, in part, by the all-star cast, who each deliver deeply nuanced portrayals.

The Ice Storm should be thought of as the yin to Dazed and Confused's yang. Both are excellent 1990s films set in the 1970s, and while the latter is a comedy celebrating the freedom of hedonistic youth in pre-Reagan America, the former is a tragedy where the permissiveness of the times comes across more like thoughtless self-indulgence with dire consequences. It's precisely this anti-nostalgia that makes The Ice Storm such an incredible film. The "liberation" of the times doesn't make these characters happier or freer -- it only seems to make their universal longings and situations that much worse.


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the '70s. What are the ways in which 1973 is brought to life in this film?

  • How is this movie similar and different from other "coming of age" movies from or set in the '70s?

  • What similarities do you see with other "coming of age" movies, regardless of where or when they are set?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age tales

Themes & Topics

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