Rick Moody, author of the novel upon which The Ice Storm is based, has said that he was thinking of Updike when he wrote the book. There's no mistaking the influence when you watch the movie. Alienation and loss, sex and sexual guilt all figure prominently in Updike's work, as they do in this picture. The characters are searchers, like Rabbit Angstrom.
You could look at the picture as a period-piece. It is faithful and exact in it's recreation of early 70s upper-middle-class life, but the director (Ang Lee) isn't interested in 70s nostalgia. All the attention to period detail helps create the atmosphere, but it isn't distracting or over-emphasized. It's nicely integrated into the movie.
The Ice Storm is really a fairly simple melodrama. There's nothing in the subject matter that you couldn't find on a daytime television show any day of the week. What sets this picture apart is it's artistry, both in character development and in storytelling. Nothing released last year surpasses it in those categories.