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White Bird in a Blizzard (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

White Bird in a Blizzard

White Bird in a Blizzard


Starring Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Gabourey Sidibe, Mark Indelicato, Sheryl Lee, Angela Bassett, Thomas Jane, Dale Dickey, Michael Patrick McGill, Brenda Koo, Ava Acres, Jill Johnson and Jacob Artist.

Screenplay by Gregg Araki.

Directed by Gregg Araki.

Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.  91 minutes.  Rated R.

Coming off of the dual young-adult blockbusters Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars this summer, White Bird in a Blizzard is certainly more mature fare for current teen “it” actress Shailene Woodley.

It’s not necessarily really better – though it is certainly no worse than the wildly over-rated Divergent – but it was certainly a brave choice for the actress.  White Bird tries to take a hard look at sex, violence, drugs and dysfunction in the suburbs of America, circa 1988.  (The storyline stretches into the early 90s, but most of the action takes place in ’88-89.)

Woodley’s character of Kat shows a whole new side of the actress – and not just because she appears naked in quite a few scenes.  Her character is a jaded, drug-addled, sex-starved high school student.  In fact, of her past characters, the one it is reminiscent of the most is her breakout character from The Descendants, her family had allowed her to spiral further out of control in her reform school period.

Her mother Eve (Eva Green) is angry, demanding and increasingly unhinged.  Dad Brock (Christopher Meloni) is cuckolded and sometimes aloof, but desperate to keep the peace with the strong-willed women in his home.

One day, out of the blue, Eve disappears.  There is no note.  Her car is still in the driveway.  There is no sign of violence.  She is just gone.  It doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to her family – Eva had been threatening to leave Brock for years and it was obvious to all that neither was happy.

Still, in coming to terms with her mother’s disappearance, Kat tries to figure out her mother’s increasingly odd behavior (mostly shown in flashbacks and dream sequences.)  She assures her shrink (Angela Bassett) that she is coming to terms with what happened, but still pushes away (the feeling is somewhat mutual) from her old boyfriend next door (Shiloh Fernandez) and gets involved in a poorly-thought-out affair with an older detective working on the case (Thomas Jane).

While Eva Green is awfully young to be playing Woodley’s mother (Green is 34 and Woodley is turning 23 in a couple of weeks), they work off of each other well, and Green does bring a sense of longing and desperation to her otherwise rather enigmatic character.

Unfortunately, Meloni’s performance is rather sheepish, as if playing such a meek character has sapped his personal acting charisma.  Woodley, on the other hand, is mostly on target in this tricky role, but even she periodically feels cut off from her character’s odd dysfunction.

I’m not sure why exactly the film is done as a period piece.  Though the movie has a great new wave soundtrack, it mostly otherwise does not particularly feel like the 80s.  For example, in 1988, the boy next door who becomes her boyfriend would so not have had a tattoo on his chest (tattoos didn’t come into vogue until the early-mid 90s).  Also, the screenplay has anachronistic lines like “Girl, give me the deets,” or “Sorry my dad was being such a douche,” two catchphrases that were not spoken until well into this new millennium.

The film also can’t quite seem to decide if it wants to be a psychological piece or a mystery.  (There is, after all, a missing woman at the heart of the story.)  It eventually spends so much time examining the toxic relationships of Kat and her family and friends that the central puzzle of the story feels like an afterthought.

Still, despite the fact that the film is definitely flawed, it is intriguing and spiky enough to be worth a look.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2014 All rights reserved. Posted: October 31, 2014.

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