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Published: Friday, 3/18/2005

Movie review: Ice Princess ***

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Woe, to be a Disney heroine.

You can't win - even if you're Michelle Trachtenberg in the likable enough figure-skating empowerment fantasy Ice Princess, and you're guaranteed a happy ending. But it gets worse if you're smart, beautiful, inventive, and your biggest problem is you live in a pleasant Connecticut suburb and your world is crumbling because, well, you can't decide between a win-win situation:

Do you opt for a full ride to Harvard on a physics scholarship? Or turn down Cambridge to take the riskier path of becoming a world-class figure skater - a more glamorous dream, of course, but a far shorter career?

I'm not being flip.

This is Casey Carlyle's hard choice in Ice Princess. Trach-tenberg, who played Buffy's little sister in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and has the pale, angelic face of a Renaissance portrait - and despite problems we should all have - bears the believable look of overachieving teens everywhere. She looks determined and focused, but also paralyzed by the idea of a single choice at 16 changing her world forever.

If you took the SAT last weekend, and at some point you were violently torn between picking A or C, you can attest to that look.

I'm not making too much of this: Ice Princess is G-rated, feel-good, sugarcoated, uplifting, wholesome, chaste, and nicely unembarrassed about all that - the filmmakers never throw in a self-conscious reminder that they're too cool for the room. It takes place in one of those formulaic Disney parallel universes where every cool girl in school looks like a 23-year-old soft porn superstar, and the heroine is gorgeous but a complete outcast.

The bouncy songs all have lyrics like "You can be what you want to be" and sound like Avril Lavigne without the sneer. There's a boy, and there's a kiss; he's the Zamboni driver, no less. The skating outfits are sparkly, and there is a lot of falling-on-your-rump skating humor. So this isn't Million Dollar Baby On Ice, minus all of the, without all the, you know, don't make me say it - without all the dark stuff and the redneck hillbilly family.

Your 10-year-old will gush.

That said, at the center of Ice Princess is a surprisingly ambitious kid's flick about ambition itself, feminism - and some not-quite-so-intentional ideas about how women should behave. Casey falls into skating accidentally: She needs a physics project with a personal touch and decides to find the scientific formula for a perfect axel. In the process, she discovers her own perfect axel. Casey hires Coach Tina, played by Kim Cattrall, a taskmaster who e-nun-ci-ates every word as if Yul Brenner were a sports parent. She's the mother of Gen (Hayden Panettiere), another potential skating prodigy.

Gen and Casey are competing images of girlhood. So are Tina and Joan, Casey's mom. Tina is ruthless, sort of a snake who thinks Casey should wear flimsy outfits if it helps her win. Casey's mom, however, is played by Joan Cusack, who couldn't be more unlike Kim Cattrall (the film is well cast). She is plain and doesn't wear makeup and therefore, she thinks a life of figure skating instead of Harvard is like a cruel joke. She'd rather see Casey use her head for a living and not exploit her feminine side for a championship score.

Of course, Casey compromises; she finds middle ground she's comfortable with. What Ice Princess says to other women, on the other hand, is itchier: If you don't compromise, you pay. If you're competitive - if you know what you want and are not shy about saying it - as in a lot of films for kids, you're a cheat or a backstabber. Basically, you're a budding Kim Cattrall. On the other hand, if you're not willing to surrender brains, you're dull.

Humorless or fabulous?

"There's no shelf life on your mind," Joan reminds Casey, but then, it's not really an option.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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