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Ice Princess Movie Review

originally posted many years ago

Ice Princess obeys the contours of its rigid formula like a figure skater would to a competitive routine. The judges, like movie audiences, have all seen the performance before, and they judge it based on the best that the routine can be. The skater herself must keep her eyes on the prize-she must execute flawlessly, exactly the way she's supposed to. If she deviates from her routine, it could be risky, and it could spell disaster.

I think a lot of movies work this way, and Ice Princess is no exception. As a story, Ice Princess is generally reluctant to take risks, and so when we watch it, we're watching a mechanized formula, the same story of "believe in yourself" and "follow your dreams" that we've all seen ad nauseum. As Casey Carlyle (Michelle Trachtenberg) rises from a figure skating underdog to a regional contender, Ice Princess hits all the usual stops along the way-training montages, arguments with a mother who just doesn't understand her daughter's dream, a cute boy who distracts from practice, and the Big Competition, where our heroine falters a little but ends up rising to the occasion. Like a skater, Ice Princess follows this static regimen religiously, and the monotony can be tiring.

But Ice Princess doesn't trace the tracks of predictability all the way. Sometimes this movie plays the rules of routine with tremendous soul, and it actually becomes kind of enjoyable. The characters, for example, are not cookie-cutter avatars who either support our heroine or not. They are real people, and there is noticeable feeling and change in their personalities as the movie flows forward. The mother daughter relationship has spark too, even though it ends with the obligatory scene at the Championship, when Mom arrives halfway through the event just in time to see her daughter shine. And the actual figure skating in Ice Princess is impressive. I wouldn't be surprised if nearly everyone on the ice does their own stunts, and even if they don't, Ice Princess makes us believe that they do. A character is Ice Princess sums it up best. Just before our heroine skates out to meet her destiny at the Sectional Finals, her trainer says, "Skate with your heart." Ice Princess works because it does just that-it plays a formula, but it plays with heart, and produces a better movie than we ever expected.

I think the key to Ice Princess is Michelle Trachtenberg, one of Walt Disney's contract starlets. She takes on the film's lead role, and she gives it life, humor, and weight. A marvelously convincing actress, Trachtenberg cuts through the contrivance inherent in the film's script and makes it into something semi-real. We believe her character and we believe in her, so much, in fact, that when she dos go to Finals, we're rooting for her without abandon. I've seen few other teen actresses do this quite like Trachtenberg, and I really do admire her for it.

Trachtenberg's character is, as I said earlier, Casey Carlyle a high school senior who's great at physics, but lacking in social skills. Casey's not the partying type-she's a bookworm to the core, and can't hold a three-word conversation with anyone she hasn't known since kindergarten. When Casey gets a chance at a Harvard physics scholarship, her mom (Joan Cusack) thinks it could be Casey's first step into the academic world she was born to master. After a bit of searching, Casey finds her project-the aerodynamic formulas which control a world-class figure skater.

Casey decides the best place to study would be a local ice rink owned by former Olympic skater Tina Harwood (Kim Catrall), who now trains teen skaters. At first, Casey just observes the other skaters and does her calculations from there, but soon Casey gets on the ice herself to put her hypothesis into practice. However, Casey falls in love with the sport, and soon her project becomes secondary to the thrill of figure skating. Tina notices that Casey has some raw talent, and soon, Casey is invited to compete for Sectional champions.

One thing I like about Ice Princess is how it depicts the life of a teen skater. Practice takes over the lives of Casey and her fellow skaters, including Tina's daughter Gen (Hayden Panetierre), and the overbearing influence of success-obsessed parents can turn the sport into a very exhausting, very sour thing. Worse yet is Casey's mom, who hates skating and doesn't want Casey to give up a shot at Harvard. It creates an interesting dynamic with an ambiguous outcome-who do you listen to, the mom who doesn't understand, or the trainer who works you without affection?

The acting in Ice Princess brings conflicts to the surface in places where most similar films would be on autopilot. Gen, for example, seems like a one-dimensional stuck up priss when we first meet her, but by the end of the movie, she reveals a side of her that is tortured by her training. There's an effective, teary-eyed debate between Gen and her mother when the pain and isolation of practice gets to be too much, which may very well be the best scene in the movie.

So what does all this mean? Should you see Ice Princess? Maybe not, since the little innovations it brings to its formula are not impressive enough to warrant the most glowing praise. However, the film's target teenage girl audience will love it because it will be everything they want to see, and a little bit more. For what it is, Ice Princess works well, and that's more than most other movies of its kind are willing to do.

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