Written by: Rick Moody (novel), James Schamus
Directed by: Ang Lee
Starring: Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood
My rating is simple, Watch It, It Depends, Skip it. Read my previous movie reviews!
Set in the 1970s, two dysfunctional upper-class Connecticut families escape their lives through alcohol, adultery, and sexual experimentation.
While it's a dour movie, it captures people phenomenally well. Great direction and writing draw parallels between adults and children. They're both trapped, searching for an escape. The difference is that adults don't have anyone to admonish them. This has a distinct charm and great imagery set against an incoming ice storm. Why can't these characters find happiness?
After this and Brokeback Mountain (2005) (read my review), I'm an Ang Lee fan. He captures small character building moments so well.
While the backdrop is an ice storm, this was filmed in early spring. There was no ice. What we see in the movie is hair gel, fake icicles, and sound effects.
Set just before Thanksgiving in the 1970s, everyone in the Hood and Carver family has issues. While Thanksgiving brings families together, in this case it's just physically. They're disconnected. The children and adults are trapped in their own lives, searching for something. It's left up to us to speculate whether they seek a sense of place, the feeling of life, or just understanding.
These are upper class families that at first glance seem to live an idyllic life. Why aren't they happy? Happiness isn't a good job, a nice house, or a good school. These characters have everything, but it doesn't satisfy. You could say this movie argues that adults have an impact on their kid's happiness.
Janey (Sigourney Weaver) asks the kids if they have homework not even realizing they are on Thanksgiving break. She's engrossed in her own life and affair with Ben (Kevin Kline). She's completely disconnected. She's a parent that recites the lines a parent should. When she catches Wendy (Christina Ricci) and her son Sandy playing doctor, she goes on a rant about adolescence and Samoa. Wendy states she understands, but she doesn't. Janey is putting on a facade, saying a lot without saying anything. Adults talk at children instead of to them.
The lack of acknowledgement is manifested subtlety. Janey and Ben (Kevin Kline) use her son Sandy's bed.
This feels like an authentic family, not the cookie cutter, happily ever after families we usually see. It's engrossing because these are people, not just actors reciting lines. These families have problems. Jim Carver is away too often, it may have led to Janey's affair. Ben and his wife Elena are both trying to escape their marriage. We see that she seeks more. She's at the early stages looking at books on how to expand her mind.
Siblings Paul (Tobey Maguire) and Wendy call each other Charles and he refers to her phone as a telephonic device. It's overly technical and has no bearing on the story other than to build character. My brother and I would play the same game of referring to everything with an extremely technical description. A computer was a digital computing device.
The most striking parallel is between the kids and the adults. The only difference is age and experience. That and the adults pretend to fit into a normative society, while kids haven't learned to develop the pretense. Both groups are experimenting sexually. Wendy is promiscuous, but no more so than the adults. They're looking for something. They don't know what it is, they just crave something to fill the void that is their lives. The adults admonish the children because they are supposed to Janey's son Sandy is literally blowing things up while the adults do it figuratively.
The ice is a subtle reminder of the cold. It's a solid shell but fragile. The ice storm is coming, and the storm is just starting for the characters.