Torque and inertia are cool—at least to Casey Carlyle. She’s remarkably adept at math and science, and even gets recommended for a Harvard physics scholarship by one of her teachers. This thrills Casey’s single mom, who teaches feminist literature at a local college and wants her daughter to parlay her academic prowess into a meaningful career. Hobbies such as ice skating must take a back seat.
Then Casey figures out a way to marry skating and schoolwork. For her required “scholarship project” she decides to study the aerodynamics of three aspiring figure skaters, using complex formulas and computer technology to break down their routines.
At first, the idea of an outsider filming practice doesn’t sit well with the girls’ parents. Neither does it please their hypercompetitive coach, Tina Harwood, a former Olympic figure skater of questionable character who is obsessed with driving her own snobbish daughter, Gen, toward the prize. So it’s no surprise that Gen and her friends initially look down their noses at Casey. But when the gracious physics phenom uses her research to dramatically improve her own skating and theirs, the girls warm up.
In a matter of weeks Casey’s skating is good enough to earn her a chance to compete alongside Gen and the other girls. But there’s no easy formula for success. She faces betrayal, and feels the need to skate behind her mother’s back aware that Mom would never support her decision to put a dream of competitive figure skating above Harvard.
Parents can learn a lot by watching adults on screen blow it. Too competitive parents at the ice rink look foolish screaming at children about technique, threatening them or saying insensitive things such as, “I’m working two jobs for you because you’re worth it. And when you win you’ll be even more worth it.” Tina and Mrs. Carlyle want their daughters to succeed, but push them into the pursuits they as moms value, failing to consider the girls’ own dreams. Both eventually come around. And Casey’s mom actually apologizes for spending more time planning her daughter’s life than being involved in it.
In addition to promoting forgiveness, punctuality and academic excellence, the film tackles the “mean girls” phenomenon with grace and optimism. Upon meeting Gen, we assume she’ll be the antagonist throughout. But Casey endures her snooty barbs and shows her kindness, and that opens the way for a friendship genuine enough that Gen offers her sound advice and isn’t concerned at the prospect of Casey beating her in competition.
Casey works tirelessly to fulfill her dream. Teddy, a Zamboni driver to whom Casey cozies up, comes to her rescue a few times (bailing her out of an awkward social situation, smoothing the ice on her pond, etc.).
Cheating is condemned. People who misbehave endure consequences. Parents make huge sacrifices for their children. Casey learns that passion is required to excel. The filmmakers clearly don’t buy into Tina’s mantra that a true champion must be willing to do anything—including walking over others—to win. Teddy appreciates Casey’s intelligence, while peers who treat her like a weirdo come off looking shallow.
The movie will make math and science seem more relevant to teens. Indeed, even though Casey seems to back-burner her academics in favor of skating, she never would’ve been able to live that dream if not for the head knowledge that elevated her skills. The message is clear: Real winners are well-rounded people.
Teenage girls kiss their boyfriends. Some parents may share Casey’s mom’s discomfort with form-fitting, short-skirted skating costumes, though none are unduly immodest or provocative.
At a party, a foolhardy zip-line stunt goes awry and a guy sails out a window. Gen and a punked-out skating rival are separated before they can come to blows.
Two uses of “butt” and an exclamation of “oh my god.” Let’s hope young children don’t walk out of this G-rated film repeating the crude phrase, “That pretty much blew.”
Nothing blatant, though Jen and Casey attend a typical “in-crowd” party where teens drink from opaque plastic cups.
Mean girls do spiteful, catty things. (They are vilified for their actions.) It may bother some families that neither Casey nor Gen has a father figure, and that absence of male role models has no significant affect on anyone. Tina dangles an Outkast CD in front of Gen as incentive for her to win a competition. Gen lies to her mom and Casey to procure a night out, then takes Casey to a party instead of going to the movies. While not normally sneaky and dishonest, Casey tells her mother she’s tutoring when, in actuality, she’s skating on the sly.
A few years ago people got bent out of shape about a talking Barbie doll programmed to say “Math is hard.” News flash: Beyond the kind I’m currently using to do my taxes, math is hard, especially for those of us wired to work with words. Well, the folks who objected to Algorithmically Challenged Barbie should love Ice Princess. This gentle family film treats its brainy heroine with respect and shows how a deep understanding of math and science can help make dreams come true even when those aspirations don’t include working at NASA. The movie isn’t afraid to admit that math is hard. It also portrays it as a practical, honorable, enormously useful skill.
Beyond giving teenage girls a reason to do their geometry homework, Ice Princess is a great date movie for mothers and daughters—especially in families struggling over plans and expectations for their teen’s future. See it together. Grab a bite afterwards. Discuss this cinematic parable and how it applies to your own relationship. I love the fact that, although the story ends happily enough, there’s ambiguity about what Casey will face next and how it will affect her. Is she making the right choice? Has she simply traded one cage for another? And at what point is chasing a dream worth all of those headaches? There’s a lot to talk about for families willing to put forth the effort. While not great art, Ice Princess is a sweet cinematic bon-bon that knows its audience well and provides enough uplift to launch a triple axel.