As might be expected, in terms of the plot, Ice Princess is about as predictable as they come. So much so that it brings to mind Miss Prism’s definition of fiction in The Importance of Being Earnest: “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.” But in Ice Princess, there really aren’t any bad characters to meet unhappy ends, just misguided ones who are allowed to see the error of their ways.
And it is this area in which Ice Princess raises itself considerably above the norm for this sort of movie. If the director Jean Renoir, whose nonjudgmental stance toward his characters resulted from his belief that “everyone has his reasons,” had ever made a tween flick, this would be the one he would have made. That not only sounds like an overstatement – it is one. (Admit it — you never expected to see Oscar Wilde and Jean Renoir cited in a review of Ice Princess.) However, it does sum up what makes Ice Princess better than it has any apparent right to be.
Once I got past my mental image of star Michelle Trachtenberg’s antics in her last film, Eurotrip — in which she jumped up and down (shirtless) to stop traffic and was deflowered in an airplane lavatory — I was able to settle into the film’s pleasant little story and its unusually well-formed characters.
Trachtenberg plays Casey Carlyle, a no-nonsense, slightly geeky honor student who gets a shot at going to Harvard University. She’ll get a scholarship if she can come up with a sound, yet personal, physics project. Having a natural fondness for ice-skating, she decides that there must be mathematical equations that would turn the sport into a science. And so, despite the resistance of the high school’s top skaters and the local ice-rink manager, she gets herself into a position to prove her theory.
The trick is, Casey turns out to be blessed with natural athletic talent, and her interests move more toward skating than physics, even though her mother (Joan Cusack), an aging, hippie-ish, granola-based life-form, finds the costumes “demeaning” to women and the whole endeavor unimportant.
Now, that’s pretty stock stuff, but the characters actually aren’t stock material, even though they do seem a little convenient. That Casey is a skater at heart who’s pushed by an academically minded mother is one thing. That her original “rival,” Gen Harwood (Hayden Panettiere, Racing Stripes), is a “regular girl” at heart who’s pushed by a skating-obsessed mother (Kim Cattrall) is something else again. But if you can look past these stereotypes to the far more interesting depiction of the two girls and their mothers, you’ll find there’s a lot more to Ice Princess that meets the eye of expectations.
While the script makes an ill-advised attempt to turn Cattrall’s character into a variant on Tonya Harding (she’s named Tina Harwood, no less), it also has the sense not to turn her into anything like a standard bad gal. Sure, she does bad things during the course of the film, and even has a sub-Harding history of an earlier bad deed, but ultimately, she’s not unlikable.
Moreover, as the story progresses, the film cleverly flip-flops on the question of just who is less than admirable. At one moment, it’s Cattrall’s Harwood. The next, it’s Cusack’s Joan Carlyle. The dynamic here is unusual and effective, because while the film fills its obligations as a tween picture — complete with a romance between Casey and Teddy (TV actor Trevor Blumas), a “hunky Zamboni driver,” as the movie’s press kit calls him — Ice Princess is also aimed squarely at the mothers of its target audience.
The movie’s mothers are not bad people, but they do foist their dreams and their prejudices on their daughters. And while the movie has them realize this before it’s over, it also has the savvy not to present them as “magically cured” of their short-sightedness.
Altogether, the movie’s qualities are unexpectedly refreshing, making for a nice little entertainment that says something worth saying. Rated G.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke