Sunday, April 10, 2005

Who needs an Evil Genius when you've got a mom?

I went to see the movie "Ice Princess" with my daughter the other night. It was pretty standard Disney Channel fare, blown up for the big screen, with that timeless theme of Following Your Dream and having the courage to stand up and tell grown-ups they Just Don't Get It. I was able to enjoy the plot enough to suspend my motherly disbelief at the time, but the more I think about the film, the more it ticks me off. Let's just say it's not something you want your kids to take you to for Mother's Day, no matter how much you may love ice skating.

While the film is certainly formulaic, it does away with two of those staples of teen and Disney flicks: the nasty Alpha Girl who makes the less cool but nonetheless scrappy heroine's life a misery, and the Evil Villain whose diabolical plot the heroine somehow stands in the way of. It's hard to imagine a teen movie without an Alpha Girl, or a Disney movie without an Evil Villain. And yet, in "Ice Princess," the Alpha Girl becomes an ally pretty early on, and there is no Evil Villain bent on world domination or puppycide. Instead, as the perpetrators of cutting comments, confidence busters, dirty tricks and dire consequences, we have ... moms. And not even evil stepmoms. Just plain old striving smothering over-loving single moms who commit that unforgiveable teen movie offense of wanting things for their daughters. The nerve!

Joan Cusack, who either allowed herself to be filmed entirely without makeup or was wearing some sort of harried middle-aged mom spackle that made her look exactly like I do most days, plays the mom of a bright honor student, the kind who spouts complicated scientific formulas when she's flustered and does math sums in her head to such a degree that it makes other kids uncomfortable. The girl seems to be on a fast track to Harvard, and happy about it, until a summer science project turns into a fascination with figure skating. Because it's a Disney movie, she has such enormous natural talent that she's suddenly besting skaters who've been working at it since before they could lace up their own boots. It's not long before she's letting her grades slip, ditching college interviews, and squeezing into little sequined outfits. And a mom's not supposed to have her reservations about that? If it were drugs or drinking or bad boyfriends that were luring this good girl from the straight and narrow, we'd be slapping that mom silly for letting her out of the house. But figure skating? That's Following Her Dream, Mom! Back off and get your own!

Of course, the mom who wants her daughter to be a figure skater -- played by Kim Cattrall, who must have had it in her contract that under no circumstances would she be wearing the harried middle-aged mom spackle -- is also an evil dream-squishing killjoy. Because her beautiful blond child, who has devoted most of her young life to leaps and lutzes, just wants to do better in math! Please, Mom, don't make me cut class, she pleads. All this ice princess wants is to go to the homecoming dance and maybe get into college and marry her stupid football-playing boyfriend and drop out and have babies and a miserable life in a trailer somewhere and ... whoops, I'm letting my essential mom-ness get in the way of a girl and her dream again. Skating Mom was herself a skater who never fulfilled her promise, and so it must therefore be true that she's living through her child; the fact that she's the one who does the dirty tricks against a rival pretty much seals her deal as a Bad Mom Who Has Lost Perspective. And again, I say: If this was a movie about a promising athlete who was distracted by drugs or drink or bad boyfriends, we would be cheering as the mom fought those bad influences with a baseball bat and the fire of motherly love. But going to class? Doing homework? Being a normal kid? Well, why would you want to get in the way of that? Because we all know that being happy in high school is what really sets you up for success in life.

Yeah, I know, I'm touchy. I'm reading too much into a little piece of you-go-girl fluff. We moms, you know, we Take Everything So Seriously! The movie hits me at a time when I've just deviated from one dream for my daughter in order to maybe make her a little happier, and so watching the geek girl land her triple leaps and the Alpha girl hug her math tutor should fill me with reassurance that the path we set is not always the right one for our children to follow. But it doesn't. I still wonder. It's still such guesswork. You can tack a weepy, feel-good ending on it, but I'm not convinced that a few years down the road, those daughters and those moms aren't going to be second-guessing their decisions. Sometimes pushing our children is a bad idea, but sometimes it's the only way to get them where they're going. That's something you just can't skate around.

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