Ossus Library Index Drama Movie Index


Directed by Ang Lee (1997, Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Starring Kevin Kline, Elijah Wood, Sigourney Weaver, Christina Ricci, and Katie Holmes

Two families deal with sexual liberation and an ice storm in the early 1970s.



2 stars

June 18th, 2001 on TV

    Interesting and pretty good in some spots, but not enough. This movie was a little too dull and twisted for my tastes, but then, I am not really a fan of pure drama.

This movie reminded me a lot of American Beauty, but where the latter had passion to back up each character, that passion was missing from this film. Everyone seemed to walk around in a daze, very restrained, even when they were bawling. 

Every character had a single note they played to. They seemed more than one-dimensional characters, but they had one characteristic that defined them.

Ben Hood is the main character. From the very start, we can see that he is probably having an affair with their neighbor, just by the way she wipes wine off the crotch of his pants during dinner one night. Later, we see that they have sex, but it is passionless. They are doing this out of some physical need, but neither one is very interested in it. Sigourney Weaver's character just sits back after sex and looks stoned. At another point, with Ben stripping to his boxer shorts, she leaves and runs some errands. A strange relationship, that's for sure, and it shows how unfulfilling these people find their lives. By the end, they both end up in tears, though for different reasons.

Ben's wife Elena knows that the romance has left their relationship. They have even dropped out of therapy. She misses her youth, and ends up flirting with the idea of having an affair with a minister, and gets caught shoplifting from a pharmacy. She tries to have an affair with her neighbor's husband, but it doesn't go the way she had planned (or hadn't planned, since she seemed to be making it up as she went along).

Ben and Elena's son desperately wants to sleep with a classmate, and he gets himself invited over to her empty New York apartment over Thanksgiving weekend. But a friend of his gets there first, with obvious intensions of stealing her from him. The girl and his friend end up taking some drug pills, and wasting away, and the son goes back to Connecticut happy (I can't tell why, since nothing went his way). I also can't figure out why the movie started with this scene, and came back to it at the very end. Maybe I missed some symbolism.

Wendy is Ben and Elena's younger daughter. She is obsessed with her body and the bodies of her neighbor's sons, though she just wants to "see it" and "touch it", but not have sex. She makes out with the older brother, but eventually ends up naked in bed with the younger brother (without actually having sex). At one point, she's making out with the older brother, Mikey, as her father is waiting to have sex with Mikey's mother!

The actual ice storm due to weather doesn't appear until the last half hour, and is really well depicted, though the entire film is one ice storm after another for the characters. Torrents of rain that freeze upon hitting the ground, trees and cars covered with ice, and power lines down. Good thing it didn't go on for longer, because it reminded me too much of the January 1998 ice storm that left many people in these two provinces homeless for a week without power (including us, though we were not hit nearly as hard as many other communities during that storm).

All the adults are at a key-exchange party, where the men put their car keys in a bowl, and the women blindly choose the key to go home with. Sometimes this ends up creating new relationships and breaking up old ones. It is obvious that Ben wants to go home with his mistress, but feels a huge amount of guilt, though he cannot overcome the lust he feels. So his wife tries to do the same, and ends up in the car with her neighbor, which leads to the ill-fated affair attempt. But Ben's mistress knowingly takes somebody else's keys, which leaves Ben passed out on the floor. 

Long after everybody has left, Ben also leaves, alone. He slips and slides his car until he comes across the lifeless body of Mikey, who was out enjoying the ice ("molecules slow to a stop when it's cold, and the air is fresh") on the roads. It is not clear how he was electrocuted. When the power line touched against the metal fencing he was leaning on, he was wearing snowpants and mittens, which should have afforded him some sort of (minimal) protection. But I suppose if they were soaked through, as they would be in a storm such as this one, the dirty water would have provided a direct link to his skin. And he was also lying there for a long time, during which he might have been saved if he had been found sooner.

So Ben brings Mikey's body home to his neighbor, and finds Elena there (just having coffee after a long hard night, because their car went off the road on the way home), Wendy in bed with the younger son, but they don't notice the wife, sobbing on her bed. When they pick up their son from the train from New York, Ben finally breaks down and starts bawling. 

Every one of these characters was extremely strange. Each one was looking for meaning in life, and I'm not sure that any of them found it. By the end, I think they each realized how bad their lives were, and didn't know how to fix it. Perhaps only Wendy found something, in that she was able to find somebody who could share her passion without ruining it by actually having sex.

The ending could have definitely been better. Actually, the ending brought the entire movie rating down by a full star. It was so meaningless, and it looked like a completely arbitrary place to end. For there were lots of really entertaining scenes scattered throughout, from the one where Ben carries Wendy home after both of their failed affairs, and other snippets of dialog. Unfortunately, the movie was too slow, and lacked any passion in their characters (except again, perhaps Wendy, and a wonderful performance by Katie Holmes).  It was hit-and-miss, all the way.

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