Thursday, December 1, 2022

Recasting 1997 (supporting): "The Ice Storm"

Released a decade apart, two of my all-time favorite films, Sense and Sensibility and Brokeback Mountain, wouldn't seem to have much in common at first glance. I suspect most folks wouldn't necessarily think these two movies could possibly be directed by the same person. But they were indeed. As was Hulk, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Life of Pi. It's perhaps this broad pallet of storytelling that's interested in me in so many Ang Lee films, and why I was therefore happy to be able to find a role in one of his movies that would reasonably fit well into this project. 

The Ice Storm was adapted from Rick Moody's 1994 novel of the same name. The story follows a pair of families around Thanksgiving in 1973 Connecticut, at a time when a general malaise was apparently falling over much of suburban America. The Nixon White House was a source of national tension, and experimentation with drugs, alcohol and casual sex had carried over from the free love era of the 60s. Here we meet two couples, the Hoods and the Carvers, disillusioned in their own marriages and yearning for meaning, purpose, or simply excitement in their lives, that they begin to seek it out elsewhere. Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) and Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver) happen to find some semblance of what they're looking for in each other's arms. Once their affair is discovered by Ben's wife Elena (Joan Allen), things fall apart at a "key party" (where couples swap partners for a night) and tragedy befalls the Carvers when they discover their son has been electrocuted during an ice storm the same night. 

I feel like there's a bit of a trend I've identified in my selections in both this supporting and my previous lead recasting project in regard to a type of role Meryl tends to not do. That of a character who's role is to some degree based on her sex appeal. Off the top of my head, I can't really think of roles for which Meryl really does that. We can identify many from contemporaries like Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon and Sigourney Weaver. Not that Meryl can't inhabit a character like that, just that she either doesn't want to for any number of reasons (perhaps that she's been lucky enough not to have to rely on that type of casting), or that she may not feel like it's a kind of performance she's able to give. I think of her small role in Lisa Kudrow's web series Web Therapy, where she played a gay-conversion therapist. She conveyed a sort of conservative, very stereotypically cisgendered female sex appeal. She was a bit buxom, and it was effective. 

The complexity of the role of Janey Carver of course goes far beyond her sex appeal, however. I've watched the movie a couple of times at this point, and I still have questions about her mind and her motivations. What I break it down to is that she's basically bored. She's bored with her suburban home, family and husband. She's super smart and is unchallenged by the crop of characters in her neighborhood, and she almost becomes a bit of a hedonist. A hedonist without much concern about what she does and whom she hurts. It's not quite as bad as a sociopath, but the detachment she demonstrates from the types of problems and feelings of others (including those she's had a hand in creating), suggests she's either hurting quite a bit in her own way, or that she just doesn't possess or have the ability to show those feelings. That's exactly the kind of tricky thing I'd love to see Meryl unpack were she to have had the opportunity to portray this character. 

While sort of a quiet movie at the box office, The Ice Storm was highly praised by critics, particularly for its directing and performances of the cast. Youngsters Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Katie Holmes and Adam Hann-Byrd (Little Man Tate) do wonderful jobs in their respective roles. Weaver was nominated for a Golden Globe for Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, and won the BAFTA. Sadly, she missed out on an Academy Award nomination. Were it not for writer and regular commenter on this site, Michael Burge, mentioning this movie during my lead recasting project, I never would've even known it existed. That's a sad commentary on how under-remembered and under-appreciated this beautiful movie was and remains to this day. 


  1. Great choice Jeff, I really must rewatch this again as I remember being very impressed, especially to Sigourney. She really is due for recognition of how brilliant she is.

    For my 1997 pick I choose "Washington Square", unfortunately a little-seen movie based on the Henry James novel. It would have been interesting to see Meryl play someone like this from mid-19th Century and get her take on the character.

    I think this is the first time I am purloining a Maggie Smith role, as Lavinia, the "foolish" Aunt of Jennifer Jason Leigh's character and sister to Albert Finney's controlling Doctor. I understand its a remake of the 1949 classic "The Heiress" where the role was played by Miriam Hopkins. I enjoyed the movie, a pity it isn't more widely regarded.

    I also considered the role of Rose's mother in Titanic but felt it might have been too much of a commitment, time wise.

  2. I've never seen Washington Square. Looked it up and it seems like it's totally up my alley. I'll have to add it to the ever-growing list.

    Great call on Rose's mom in Titanic. Would've been a way to insert Meryl into an record-setting blockbuster. Although I did include a James Cameron film (The Abyss) in the addendum to my lead recasting last year.

  3. Hi Jeff, thanks for the mention!
    I saw The Ice Storm at an arthouse cinema in the regional UK city of Ipswich sometime in 1997. The cinema itself was a rare find in the era when multiplexes had taken over.
    I found the film mesmerising and intense, much more subtle and powerful than the later American Beauty. As a child of the 1970s, it revived the mysteries of that decade and explained some of the challenges my parents' generation faced. I also remember noticing Allison Janney for the first time, offering around the vase full of keys at the infamous party with a gigantic grin!
    I haven't commented here for ages but I have been reading, usually on my phone where I haven't got it configured to comment! Sheer laziness, really.

    1. Nice to hear from you, Michael! Hope you're well!

      I completely agree that Allison Janney is memorable in this film. For part of her scenes I kind of wondered if the game was even supposed to be real, like were they really planning to swap partners. It was a bit unnerving and creepy how smiley she was. What a time.