When a film comes right out and says in the television commercials and in the trailers that it's the perfect film for “you and your daughter,” I can rest reasonably assured that the film is not being marketed toward me and my white male thirtysomething demographic.
So it was with a bit of trepidation that I faced down a preview screening of Disney's Ice Princess, replete as it is with teen dreams, sparkly unitards and figure skating. I mean, why don't you just throw in some unicorns and put the final nail in my coffin, Disney?
Funny thing is, a good film is a good film. And, having sat through all 92 girlie minutes of Ice Princess, I'm embarrassed to admit it's a good film. I cheered, I got a little misty and I may have marveled at the beauty and skill of competitive figure skating once (maybe twice).
The Empowerment Lite® story line of Ice Princess concentrates on young Casey Carlyle (Michelle Trachtenberg, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” EuroTrip), a high school mathlete on the fast track to Harvard. When one of her teachers suggests a summer physics project might give her the edge up on admissions, Casey looks around for something inspiring. She finds it in the sport of figure skating and is soon haunting the local ice rink searching for a mathematical formula for the perfect triple axle. OK, so it's a bit of a narrative stretch, but it gets our gal into the arena. See, our sheltered bookworm is secretly enamored with the grace and beauty of the sport, but she's never even been near a jock thanks to her stern single mother (Joan Cusack), a women's studies professor at a local New England college.
At first, our heroine is appalled by the demands that parents put on their sporting offspring. In due time, however, Casey comes to realize that the pressure on these young athletes to win is no different than her mother's pressure on her to succeed at academics.
Suddenly inspired, Casey decides to overburden her studying schedule, adding on an extra job and secretly forking over for skating lessons from local coach Tina Harwood, an ex-Olympic skater played by Kim Cattrall. Tina's a hard-driving taskmaster whose own teen daughter is a competitive skater. Does Casey have what it takes to make it in this competitive world of backstabbing divas? And if so, does she really want to?
Kudos go out to writers Meg Cabot (Princess Diaries) and Hadley Davis (“Dawson's Creek”) for bypassing some of the most egregious sports movie clichés. In true genre fashion, Casey is a poor but brainy gal with a dream. But Ice Princess does supply a pretty realistic portrait of the hard work and heartbreak that go into realizing a dream. This isn't a film about winning, it's a film about doing. The cheerful ending probably won't come as a great shock to anyone in the audience, but the honest drama woven between start and finish just might.
The film's greatest success is in its twin mother/daughter story lines. The subtle (and sometimes none-too-subtle) pressure parents put on teens is well delineated. The conflict between Casey and her mother and between Ms. Harwood and her daughter is nicely lined with tension, anger, tears and (deep down) a lot of love. Like last year's Mean Girls, Ice Princess is one of a growing breed of films to actually treat teenagers as human beings and not two-dimensional slang-dispensers.
The actors in Ice Princess are all well cast. Cattrall's flinty sex appeal is put to good use in the Tonya-Harding-as-mentor role. Cusack is certainly appropriate as the literate girl-power booster who still can't seem to decipher her teen daughter. Trachtenberg I've been a fan of since her days on early Nickelodeon cult hit “The Adventures of Pete & Pete.” I find it a bit disconcerting that cute, spunky, little Nona Mecklenberg is now a disturbingly hot 20-year-old, but I'm getting over it. She makes for a believable mixture of brainy and pretty, and will have a long career ahead of her when she finally decides to ditch the teen roles.
In the end, to my eternal shame, all I can do is agree with the marketing department at Disney: Ice Princess is the perfect movie for you and your daughter. ... Now excuse me while I go watch a movie in which someone wearing a mask kills a large number of people with a garden implement.