A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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?
- On DVD or streaming: March 13, 2001
- Cast: Joan Allen, Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver
- Director: Ang Lee
- Studio: Criterion Collection
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: Sexuality and drug use, including scenes involving children, and for language.
- Last updated: May 25, 2020
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