Casey Carlyle (Michelle Trachtenberg, "Eurotrip") and her mom (Joan Cusack, "The School of Rock") have long dreamed that she would go to Harvard and her high school math teacher thinks she's scholarship material. He proposes that she spend the summer working on an application physics project that is unusual yet personal. The recreational ice skater has a light bulb go off - she decides to digitize video of figure skaters in order to analyze their movements in hopes of discovering aerodynamic formulas, but when she applies her own theories, she's so exhilarated with the jumps she's landing the physics nerd transforms into an "Ice Princess."
As written by Hadley Davis from a story by "Princess Diaries" author Bridget Johnson, "Ice Princess" may have a preposterous premise, but it should appeal to the same mother/daughter audience that flocked to the similarly titled "Diaries." Those looking for a realistic peak at the world of competitive skating, however, will not find it here.
At "Ice Princess's" core are two sets of single mothers looking to fulfill their own dreams through their daughters. Joan Carlyle (Cusack) is a practical academic with no use for what she sees as frilly little skating costumes. Tina Harwood (Kim Cattrall, HBO's "Sex and the City") is a former rising skater with a cloudy history who is pushing her daughter Gen (Hayden Panettiere, "Raising Helen") to achieve the stardom she did not. Meanwhile, Gen longs for the 'normal' life she perceives Casey as having, while nerdish outsider Casey is enamored of Gen's glamor. The Harwoods, including Gen's cute, Zamboni-driving older brother Teddy (Trevor Blumas), accept Casey with open arms, but when Casey's progress looks to threaten Gen's standing, Tina once again resorts to poor sportsmanship, driving Gen away in the process.
I was accompanied to the "Ice Princess" screening with my own crack mother/daughter team of experts, a skating coach and her daughter, a competitive skater (and friend of national skating champ Juliana Cannarozzo, who plays the punked out skater Zoey). While I knew that vocals are not allowed in music selections for competitions, they also pointed out that it is not allowed to skip levels (as Casey does here), that judges would never be on the ice during a competition, that regional competitions have hardly any audience present (let alone commentators like Michelle Kwan and Brian Boitano) and that the skating costumes (designed by Michael Dennison) all looked like something out of the 1980's.
Of course, realism always needs to be goosed up for Hollywood entertainment value, but some major plot points are weakly supported. Casey earns money for coaching by giving tips to rivals Gen, Tiffany (Jocelyn Lai), and Nikki 'The Jumping Shrimp' (regional skating medalist Kirsten Olson), who all improve as she observes with her laptop, but what, then, is the need for a coach? Of course, this harkens back to the silly premise, as understanding the physics of a sport move does not make one able to perform it. What the filmmakers did get right were the pushy, cutthroat skating parents, exemplified here by Nikki's mom (Connie Ray,"About Schmidt") and Coach Harwood, and the diva-ish antics (Olson) and mental psyche-outs (Cannarozzo) employed by the skaters. It was also a good touch to give the central character the maturity to set aside personal betrayal to propose a win-win business arrangement.
Trachtenberg is all dewy expression and fluttery posing, a little girl's ideal of feminine fantasy come true, and Panettiere is quite likable as her unlikely new best friend. Olson starts off shrilly in her debut, but gradually comes into her own and provides most of the film's laughs. In a smaller debut role, Cannarozzo is a natural from the get-go. Both skaters have more screen presence than actress Lai as the film's more classical component. Cattrall is quite believable as the duplicitous coach who comes around, but Cusack goes to humorless extremes playing the pinched educator. Blumas is OK as the love interest, confident and charming, although he gets increasingly google-eyed as the film progresses.
Director Tim Fywell ("I Capture the Castle") is more successful with this girlie material than "Diaries'" more experienced Marshall. He gets good performances from the non-actor skaters, including the six-year old group Casey begins her lessons with. Skating doubles are well integrated into the performances, with only an overuse of soft focus in the long shots drawing undue attention (director of Photography David Hennings has prior experience making women look like athletes on "Blue Crush").
"Ice Princess" will never be mistaken for a good sports film, but it is the equivalent of a young girl's simple idea of dance represented by her jewelry box ballerina.
Robin did not see this film.
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