March 26, 2020

‘Ice Storm’ a study in detachment> Characters afloat, afraid of facing their realities

“The Ice Storm”

Directed by Ang Lee. Screenplay by James Schamus, based on the novel by Rick Moody. Running time: 112 minutes. Rated R (for language, drug use, sexuality and adult content). Nightly, Jan. 26-29, Railroad Square Cinema, Waterville.

Flat on her back with her lover, Ben Hood (Kevin Kline), having his way with her, Sigourney Weaver’s character, Janey Carver, doesn’t look as if she’s having a good time. Indeed, Janey looks as bored and as emotionally removed as Ben’s young daughter, Wendy (Christina Ricci), who is also flat on her back with Janey’s prepubescent son Sandy (Adam Hynd-Byrd), each of whom have never had sex, yet who incredibly seem detached from the act, as if their minds are elsewhere.

Which, of course, is the point. Everyone in Ang Lee’s excellent drama about 1970s suburbanites in New Canaan, Conn., is emotionally bankrupt, coldly removed from reality, morally afloat, afraid of the truth, and mired in the pseudo-intellectual dogma of the time.

The film focuses on a period in our culture when suburban, middle-class families tried to play catch-up with the groundbreaking sexual revolution of the late 1960s. The problem? These people are not revolutionaries. Thus, when they gather at parties to swap partners, drink and do drugs in an effort to anesthetize their own ridiculousness, or willingly put their lives at risk during a terrible ice storm, they seem at once shocked and rattled when they are slapped with the tragic repercussions of their own reckless behavior: Someone dies.

Lee’s film is about soulless individuals in desperate need of depth. They read Philip Roth on waterbeds, steal meaningless kisses at the deep end of an empty pool, and bring their teen-age sons to sex parties because it’s the latest naughty thing to do.

Lee strings a wealth of deeper issues throughout his film, but the Hoods and the Carvers are incapable of dealing with those issues. Why? Because in their emotional timidity and immaturity, they seem determined to live their lives solely on the surface, where things appear relatively safe and manageable — even while their lives are crumbling around them.

For instance, Elena Hood (Joan Allen) knows perfectly well that her husband, Ben, is having an affair with their neighbor Janey, but does she ever confront him with it? Of course not — that would mean stripping away the layers of her life and realizing that it is not just empty, but a tremendous lie.

At Thanksgiving dinner, Elena’s daughter Wendy, who is more in touch with world events than her parents or her parents’ friends, is asked by her father to give grace, which itself is a joke as these people bring the term “agnostic” to a whole new level. Still, Wendy seizes the moment and launches into an inspired diatribe that manages to include materialism, napalm and how the white man stole this land from American Indians. When Ben shouts at her to shut up, it is a pivotal moment that rings clear: How can these people possibly deal with the pending impeachment of Nixon, napalm and everything else that is wrong with the world when they can’t even have a civil meal together?

How can I convince you to see this film after suffering through our own ice storm? As I write, the roads are icing over yet again, the trees are bending against their will, and, if needed, our community will come together as it did two weeks ago, when most of Maine was plunged into darkness and an outpouring of help was offered.

Is this what ice storms and other natural disasters do? Bring people closer together? Ang Lee thinks so.

Grade: A

Video of the Week

“French Twist”

Written (in French with English subtitles) and directed by Josiane Balasko. Running time: 100 minutes. Rated R (for language, nudity and adult content).

We’ve seen the setup before: beautiful, lonely housewife allows into her home a strapping, masculine stranger in need of help. A conversation ensues which eventually leads to desire burning in the stranger’s eyes, perspiration shimmering on the unhappy housewife’s bosom, and the camera following the two down onto the kitchen floor, where the film then becomes an action movie.

If this were an American film, we’d assume the strapping stranger was a man. But this is a French comedy with a potent French twist: The stranger is not a man, but a tough-looking lesbian named Marijo (Josiane Balasko), who storms into housewife Loli’s life in a cloud of cigar smoke, an undeniable swagger and a joie de vivre that proves infectious.

Loli (Victoria Abril) has been married for years to her cheating husband, Laurent (Alain Chabat), and is ripe for something new, but is she capable of handling anything like this? “French Twist” explores that question with fun — if at times bizarre — results.

Grade: B

Christopher Smith, a writer and critic who lives in Brewer, reviews films each Monday in the NEWS.

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