Ice Princess (5/10)

by Tony Medley

This is a mildly entertaining flimsy trifle with a lousy premise. It missed a terrific opportunity to present an accurate picture of women’s figure skating. 

Casey Carlyle (Michelle Trachtenberg) is a high school physics whiz whose mother, Joan (Joan Cusack) has on the fast track to a Harvard scholarship. Gen Harwood (Hayden Panettiere) is a popular classmate who views Casey with disdain. Gen is also a figure skater who is being coached by her mother, Tina (Kim Cattrall) to be a champion. But Gen isn’t thrilled because her mother is such an ogre that Gen doesn’t have time for her boy friend. Casey has to make a “personal” physics report for her Harvard application, so she decides to do it on the physics involved in ice skating. This brings her in contact with Tina and skating, which has been a beloved hobby of hers up until now.

That sets the stage for what could have been a good analysis of the competitive world of women’s figure skating. Alas, although the film is entertaining, and will probably be loved by little girls, it completely misses the point, as well has being logically inconsistent.

It starts off with a view of Casey skating on her pond, doing a lot of the moves we see champions doing. But later when she signs up for a lesson for novices with Tina, she doesn’t seem to be able to do the things we saw under the opening titles. But she prevails and enters competition for some kind of regional championship, competing against girls who have been training all their lives, including Gen. We are asked to believe that Casey can perfect such difficult moves as a double axel and a double lutz after just a few weeks of novice lessons, moves that all figure skaters train for a decade, seven days a week, to perfect, but Casey does them after only a few weeks training.

This film really dropped the ball in exposing what female figure skaters have to go through to arrive at the big time. Except for Tina, there’s very little of the dominating parents and how they rob their children of their childhood in pursuit of the dream.

But the worst part of this film is its premise.  It has Casey forego a promising career as a physicist with a Harvard education for a chance at competing on the ice, which has virtually no future at all. For every Michelle Kwan and Dorothy Hamill there are thousands of young women who skate and then have nothing substantial in terms of a career to show for the endless hours of training. The premise of this film, that a teenager should go for her dream of ice skating and turn her back on her obvious promise as a talented physicist, is irresponsible, influencing, as it will, the impressionable young girls who will see it. There was no reason why Disney should show Casey as a talented physicist to bring this story to the screen. Momma Joan puts the icing on the cake by giving her imprimatur to Casey’s decision.

Although Trachtenberg and Panettiere were doubled in most of the skating scenes that called for acrobatic jumps, the other three competitors who appear in the film, Nikki, aka the “little shrimp,"  the spunky Zoey, and Tiffany, the hard edged rival of everyone, are played by real life skaters, 12-year old Kirsten Olson, 2004 Intermediate Ladies Minnesota State Champion, 14-year-old Juliana Cannarozzo, a first-place winner in the 2003 North American Championships, and Jocelyn Lai, an accomplished competitive skater and professional dancer respectively.

I enjoyed the movie, even though I deplored the premise. I also wasn’t thrilled with the original, commonplace music to which the skaters skated. When we watch ice skating we generally see it with familiar, catchy music that adds immeasurably to the enjoyment of the skating. Worse was the cinematography which doesn't capture the beauty, speed, or athleticism of ice skating.  The film could have used more skating, but only if the producers could have found someone who could film it properly and someone else who could provide the captivating music we generally hear when we watch skating on television.

March 19, 2005