Ice Princess Movie Review

Michelle Trachtenberg obviously hasn't read the teen star career-progression handbook. It goes: TV series, princess fantasy, teen sex comedy. Trachtenberg managed to skip the middle step on her way from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Eurotrip, but I guess at that point someone alerted the tween mafia, known in some quarters as the Walt Disney Company, because here she is, starring as Casey Carlyle, physics geek turned figure skater, in Ice Princess.

It's not a role that plays to her strengths. Trachtenberg is gawky, yes - but almost superhumanly so, when given the chance. She squeaks and quivers to the point of resembling a cartoon mouse; when her eyes widen in anticipation (or shock, or fear), as they often do during Ice Princess, it's easy to imagine that she's spying a tasty morsel of cheese (unfortunately, it's more difficult to imagine the movie as that cheese). Now that she's served her time as princess for a day, she should escape to good screwball comedy.

Maybe she can bring Joan Cusack with her. Cusack, a wonderful comedienne, is squished into the role of disapproving feminist mother here (sort of a cut-rate version of the Frances McDormand character in Almost Famous). Her attempts to smuggle some comedy into the wan-humored script don't pan out; instead, the mother teeters on the verge of parody. It doesn't help matters that director Tim Fywell shoots Cusack in a series of dim and unflattering close-ups. Casey and her mom have one of those movie parent-child relationships based on the child somehow managing to go 17 years without quite ever saying exactly what's on her mind (we can only hope that an industrious movie teen will one day attempt to rectify this situation before senior year of high school).

Casey's transition from nerd to athlete is sort of a neat process - she observes skaters for a physics project, and uses herself as a guinea pig to see if she can improve her skating through formulas. She can, although she is apparently working with some raw talent. The way Casey gradually insinuates herself into the world of skating is handled with patience.

This process would be even more delightful if the movie didn't treat physics much in the same way a fantasy film treats magic - as a power that exists, to be sure, but which can only (and barely) be explained in mumbo-jumbo. Whenever Casey talks about physics or math, she begins to race through an overwritten explanation and trails off, or gets interrupted. Trachtenberg, quite reasonably, uses a skating double for some of the trickier scenes; I wish she had considered a science-dialogue double, too - or a screenwriter who didn't treat science like a foreign language. It's not that the film devalues academics; it simply places them third, behind athletics and looking pretty.

To be fair, kids of a certain age will probably enjoy Ice Princess, and it's not an altogether bad way to appease them. Once Casey begins to compete with other skating prodigies, under the menacing eye of former star Tina Harwood (Kim Cattrall), the movie receives a welcome dose of bitchiness. For a little while, we at least feel that we're catching a glimpse of a subculture.

To their credit, the filmmakers don't ignore the somewhat appalling stage-parent behavior in such a subculture, nor do they dwell on it. It is presented as a fact of the fierce competition, and well-observed. If only the characters had a little more imagination - if their personalities could be reflected by more than their skating song choices. Among chick-competition movies, Bring It On still takes the gold; Ice Princess would be lucky to place.

The DVD includes deleted scenes (and alternate opening), plus a commentary track and a couple of music videos.

Toe pick joke, anyone?


Comments

Ice Princess Rating

" Grim "

Rating: G, 2005

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