Saturday, October 13, 2012
Ice Castles (1978)
Even though its leading performance is terrible and its storyline is laughably contrived, Ice Castles holds a special place in the hearts of many women who came of age in the late ’70s, because it delivers a fresh spin on that most beloved of fables—the princess who finds her true love. In this case, the princess is innocent, 16-year-old Midwesterner Alexis Winston (Lynn-Holly Johnson), a promising figure skater who’s considered too old for serious competition. She lives a sheltered life with her overprotective father, widower Marcus Winston (Tom Skerritt), and she worries what will happen when she’s separated from her directionless boyfriend, Nick Peterson (Robby Benson), who loves her but resents her potential. Predictably, however, when Alexis performs well at a local competition and catches the eye of a top-level trainer, things change dramatically. Leaving her father and Nick behind, Alexis enters the high-stakes world of Olympic-level skating. Dazzled by the lights of the big city, Alexis even succumbs to the romantic advances of an ambitious TV reporter who’s about 15 years her senior. And then, just when it seems Alexis is doomed to lose her identity, she loses her sight in a skating accident. Retreating into self-pity, Alexis sulks until Nick proves his worth by forcing her to see life anew—“through the eyes of love,” in the words of the film’s maudlin theme song.
Ice Castles is schmaltzy in the extreme, complete with a saccharine Marvin Hamlisch score, but the movie goes down smoother than you might expect. Skerritt and Colleen Dewhurst (who plays Alexis’ hometown trainer) eschew sentimentality with their grown-up performances, while Benson leavens his moony adoration with tough-love dialogue. It also helps, a lot, that cinematographer Bill Butler (of Jaws fame) shoots the movie like a slick sports documentary instead of a glossy tearjerker. Alas, Johnson’s leading performance is the film’s weakest element. While her skating is fine (she was an Ice Capades performer before becoming an actress), Johnson seems utterly lost when called upon to express complex emotions. As a result, Ice Castles has a major vacuum at its center, neutralizing many of the good efforts by costars and behind-the-scenes talents; the movie works, but just barely. FYI, Ice Castles writer-director Donald Wrye, whose career mostly comprises made-for-TV projects, remade this movie in 2010, though the second version failed to generate much excitement.
Ice Castles: FUNKY