It is November 1973 in the United States of America and Thanksgiving is almost upon the nation, although with the ailing government the way it is, many would say there's not much to be thankful about. College student Paul Hood (Tobey Maguire) is keeping his hopes alive for this time of year, however, as he has the chance to spend the evening with the rich girl he is infatuated with, Libbets (Katie Holmes), but cannot quite see that she is only interested in him as a friend. He's still better off with her than at his family's Connecticut home, as things are not going well there either...
Nixon-era America has proven fertile ground for head-shaking state of the nation drama and even thrillers ever since the Watergate scandal broke about the time that The Ice Storm is set, but few have lamented the passing of innocence as deeply as this clear-eyed but sympathetic work. It was based on the novel by Rick Moody, and I know, America was supposed to have lost its innocence when President Kennedy was shot dead or when the Vietnam War really began to turn into an hope-destroying monster, but here it is apparent the troubles were not over, and are still with us today.
Part of the nineteen-nineties love affair with the nineteen-seventies, this was blessed with a top ensemble cast filling out the roles of a couple of suburban, middle class families with more connections than they care to admit. There are the Hoods, Paul's lot, led by avuncular but slightly clueless father Benjamin (Kevin Kline) who is drifting apart from his mentally slipping wife, Elena (Joan Allen), a woman who gets caught when she shoplifts, something her daughter Wendy does not. Wendy is played by Christina Ricci in an unnerving fashion, as she knows every detail of the Watergate scandal in the same way she has a coldhearted interest in her awakening sexuality.
The other family are the Carvers, whose mother Janey (Sigourney Weaver) is carrying out an afffair with Benjamin, more out of boredom with her frequently away on business husband Jim (Jamey Sheridan) than any passion it rekindles in her. She has two sons, both prey to Wendy's curiosity: the creepy, toy-destroying Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd) and the older, friendlier Mikey (Elijah Wood), but you get the impression Janey would rather be off enjoying the sexual revolution somewhere other than where she has ended up.
Just as the government has become irreversibly corrupt and failing the people, their flaws have bled down into the lives of its citizens, so any authority in this film is pointedly undermined, leaving the characters floundering in their drive for personal satisfaction. Some saw The Ice Storm as a criticism of how family values had been rejected and the terrible emotional price to be paid for that fact, but actually it's less conservative and more anguished at the broken dreams that were promised to the country, with not so much a nostalgia for the seventies, but a yearning for a more simpler time before that when you could be sure of something: love, marriage, healthy relationships, whatever. We can never go back to that, the film acknowledges, and no amount of intellectualising will help the feeling of lost generations bewildering the next, like a vicious circle. Only the wry, embarrassed humour saves this from being utterly despairing. Music by Mychael Danna.
Taiwanese director who can handle emotional drama as effectively as action. The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman secured him international attention, and Jane Austen adaptation Sense and Sensibility and 1970s-set The Ice Storm were also well received. Epic western Ride with the Devil was a disappointment, but Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won four Oscars, including best foreign language film, and led him to direct flop blockbuster Hulk.
"Gay cowboy" yarn Brokeback Mountain proved there was a large market for gay films among straight audiences as well as homosexual, Lust, Caution pushed sexual barriers in the Chinese market, and he won his Oscar for the adaptation of the supposedly unfilmable Life of Pi. He began pushing at the boundaries of technology with Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk and sci-fi actioner Gemini Man, but they were not hits.