Cast: Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Henry Czerny, Adam Hann-Byrd, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Jamey Sheridan, Elijah Wood, Katie Holmes, Sigourney Weaver
SUMMARY: This film is set in the end of 1973, around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) lives with his wife Elena (Joan Allen) and their 14-year-old daughter Wendy (Christina Ricci) in a nice neighborhood; their son, 16-year-old Paul (Tobey Maguire) attends a boarding school. The Hoods are friends with most of the other couples in the area, including their neighbors, the Carvers. Unbeknownst to almost everybody, Ben is having an affair with Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver). Janey’s husband Jim is often away for work, leaving her alone with their two sons, Mikey (Elijah Wood) and Sandy. Janey primarily leaves her sons to their own devices; both are friends with Wendy Hood. Wendy has a secret as well: she often encourages both Hood boys to engage in sexual behavior with her. On multiple occasions they are caught, both by Janey and Ben, but little is done except for a warning. Meanwhile, Paul has fallen for a girl at his school named Libbets (Katie Holmes). However, he is desperate to keep this a secret from his ladies-man roommate, Francis. Paul comes home for Thanksgiving, but arranges a date with Libbets during the break. The day after the holiday, Elena realizes that Ben and Janey are having an affair. Despite her anger (and the argument that erupts), the two attend a neighborhood party. To their surprised this turns out to be a key party, where couples swap partners at the end of the evening by drawing car keys. Ben is uncomfortable with the idea, but Elena demands that they participate. Ben responds by getting roaring drunk; when the time comes to choose keys and Janey draws somebody else’s, he tries to protest but falls over a coffee table. This clues in Jim, just home from business, as to what is happening. Ben remains in the bathroom for the rest of the evening; the other adults pair off until only Jim and Elena are left. Both are angry about the affair their spouses are having, and decide to leave together. After a brief sexual encounter, Jim quickly regrets the decision, and offers to take Elena home.
However, a huge ice storm has developed during the party, and the roads are now incredibly slick. On the way home Jim loses control of the car and drives it into a ditch, where it (and the pair) remain stranded for the rest of the evening. While the adults are at the party, Paul has gone to see Libbets in the city. He is disappointed to find that Francis is also there, but thinks he has a solution when he finds a stocked medicine cabinet. He pretends to take some of the pills with Francis, but stays sober. Unfortunately, Libbets sees them taking the pils and demands to have some, too. As a result, both Francis and Libbets pass out, while Paul remains completely awake. He eventually covers them with blankets and then leaves, barely making the last train headed home. Wendy, Mikey and Sandy have all been left to their own devices in their respective houses. Wendy goes to the Carver house to see Mikey, but he has gone out to watch the storm. Wendy then convinces Sandy to drink some vodka, climb into bed together, and take off all their clothes. However, Sandy falls asleep before anything else happens; Wendy soon falls asleep as well. Mikey continues to wander around outside, even sliding down the ice-covered road like a slide. When he comes across a downed power line he pauses for a minute and sits on the guardrail. Just then, the power line snaps and starts spraying sparks; when it touches the guardrail, Mikey is electrocuted. In the morning, Janey makes it back to her own house, where she curls up on the bed alone (having returned from her key party encounter). Jim and Elena are finally able to walk to the house, where Elena finds Wendy and Sandy in bed. She immediately tells Wendy to get dressed and get ready to leave. Ben has also recovered enough to head home; he is driving slowly along the road when he comes across Mikey’s lifeless body. Ben carries the body back to the Carver home. Jim carries his son’s body inside and begins to sob over it; Wendy tries to comfort the stunned Sandy. Although Janey can hear the crying, she does not get up. Paul’s train had been delayed by the storm, but now Ben, Elena and Wendy all go to the station to meet him. As they all sit in the car together, Ben begins to sob; Elena moves to comfort him.
MY TAKE: I feel like this is a bit of an all-star cast, although in different stages: some of the actors were already big stars, while others achieved that after this film. Kevin Kline, Christina Ricci and Sigourney Weaver were already big names, although they would continue to have success after this film. Tobey Maguire (Spiderman), Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings) and Katie Holmes would all go on to greater acclaim after this. Allison Janney also has a small role in this film. Elena Hood is played by Joan Allen, who I know from playing the victim’s mother in the recent movie Room. Sandy Carver is also played by the kid who plays young Robin Williams in Jumanji. Curiously, despite all these names, the film didn’t do very well — it only grossed about $8 million against an $18 million budget. However, if you were to remake this movie today with the same cast, I’m sure it would cost WAY more than that. Some of those people probably pull more than that by themselves. As far as the movie itself, I think this is a lesson in why you don’t leave your children to their own devices. The obvious consequence is the crap that Wendy gets up to, which is somewhat disturbing. I couldn’t believe that none of the parents reacted with any more concern than they did. Not only that, they kept leaving her alone! The not-so-obvious consequence is Mikey’s death. Had his parents been home, or even checking in, he probably would not have been wandering around in an ice storm for hours at a time. If he wasn’t outside, he wouldn’t have died. However, most of the parents seem too involved in their own issues to pay attention to their kids. What struck me is that a lot of the issues in the film could have been resolved if the characters had just talked to each other a little more. Obviously there is really poor communication between the married couples, and it’s pretty clear that it’s also bad between parents and children — the parents literally have no idea what is going on with their children. I know that the kids were teenagers, but if a history of communication had been established, I’m sure it would have been a lot easier for the parents to figure things out.