By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated March 16, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST
Ice Princess: Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Given the luxurious but difficult choice between going to Harvard on a physics scholarship and going for the Olympics as a figure skater, what’s an academically gifted and athletically talented young woman to do? If she’s Casey Carlyle, and if she’s played by Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Michelle Trachtenberg in the slushy teen drama Ice Princess, she should put off making a decision for as long as possible, opting instead to mope through her days, on blades and off, with a perpetually frightened expression on her demure, doe-eyed face. Casey may be the first girl in the history of outstanding scholar-athletes who doesn’t know she’s good at both thermal equations and triple axels, as if such excellence were an accident and such self-awareness immodest; she’s one confoundedly passive superachiever and conflicted role model.

Stranger still in this peculiarly coy feminine-empowerment fable (written by Dawson’s Creek scribe Hadley Davis and directed, with what feels like bemusement, by British TV helmer Tim Fywell) is that all the other females around Casey know exactly what they want. And each is gently but firmly punished for it, as if such desire were unladylike. Even more insidiously, it’s the mothers who take the brunt of the scolding — moms can’t catch a break in the movies this week and fathers are nowhere in sight. As Casey’s all-alone parent, Joan Cusack is forced to personify all feminist academics as tragically dowdy and out of touch with cosmetics. Casey’s coach (Kim Cattrall), meanwhile, a former skating wonder and the pushy, all-alone mother of a discontented fellow skater (Hayden Panettiere), is forced to embody all competitive women as snakes.

In such a hothouse ice rink — where romantic interest, by the way, is treated like acne — it’s no wonder that Casey is a mess, or that Trachtenberg looks so pained as she pirouettes.