Wednesday, April 29, 2015

White Bird in a Blizzard

Directed by Gregg Araki.
2014. Rated R, 91 minutes.
Shailene Woodley
Eva Green
Christopher Meloni
Angela Bassett
Thomas Jane
Gabourey Sidibe
Shiloh Fernandez
Dale Dickey
Mark Indelicato
Sheryl Lee

Katrina (Woodley), or Kat, comes home from school one day to find her dad (Meloni) sitting in the living room looking really sad. He informs her that mom (Green) has run out on them. Kat thinks he is overreacting and that Mom will be back shortly. When she hasn't shown up by the next morning, Kat starts to accept that Dad might be right. The police are called in and they decide to conduct a search. Kat telling much of the story to her shrink ensues.

Over the last few years, Shailene Woodley has become a performer I look forward to seeing. No matter the quality of the film she's in she brings an infectious passion to her roles. She manages to find multiple layers to her characters, making them ring true as possible. Her work here is no exception. Woodley once again turns in great work that fully embodies the person she's playing. She's not alone in her excellence, either. In flashbacks, we see Eva Green as the missing mom bursting onto each scene she has and owning it. She literally dominates the screen whenever she appears. Almost lost in all the flash and dash of these two ladies, Christopher Meloni gives a nicely understated performance as Kat's dad. He truly seems to be in pain just about every time we see him.

How dad is handled as opposed to his daughter highlights what appears to be a detrimental factor to the movie. While he is drenched in despair, Kat doesn't always seem to care where her mother is. Often, she seems to have a rather flippant attitude about the whole thing. Whenever someone asks her about it I expected her to shrug her shoulders and say "Whatever." While it might feel like the crisis at hand has insufficient gravity, I can ensure you this is just the way of the American teenager. As the proud father of three of them, I can tell you that nearly every situation, great or small, is met with the same veneer of apathy. Therefore, it's no surprise that Kat would try her best to live life as normal. The problem with her attitude is that the film fails to address any of those behaviors and the possible links they may have to her mother's disappearance. We are given the perfect vehicle for such a thing to happen. As mentioned, the movie is punctuated by Kat's visits to her therapist, play by the always wonderful Angela Bassett. I am enthralled with Bassett as an actress, but her presence here is pointless since she's given almost nothing to do. Kat says something, Bassett responds with a not-so-profound or probing question and off we go to the next flashback. What could be used to give us real insight into the main character is wasted as a meaningless framing device. The movie would not be impacted in any way had our heroine just been sitting on an airplane telling her life story to a stranger. Since she's sitting in an office talking to a professional we expect more insight from the person engaged in conversation with her. It makes the whole movie feel like a missed opportunity.

None of this is to say White Bird in a Blizzard, is a terrible movie. It's not. Both Woodley and Green create compelling characters that keep us interested in their fates. The mystery of the mom's whereabouts that sits at the film's core is good enough to pull us through the movie. It also provides us with an a-ha moment at its conclusion. It's one of those instances tht, for some people, will save or sink the film. You'll almost certainly think your way back through the film for clues. These things make it a wonder piece of cinema on a purely visceral level. We have lots to things to react to. What gives us trouble is fitting all the pieces together. It's a string of events that aren't always cohesive or organic. More or less, we get a bunch of scenes designed to question the behavior of everyone involved. There are also a few symbolic, aka cryptic, dream sequences which add some arthouse flair, but little else. White Bird is clearly a movie built on story-telling strategies. It makes good use of them. It's too bad that the story they're telling isn't always worthy of them.


  1. This is a film I've been eager to see as I'm a fan of Gregg Araki though I'm not surprised by the mixed reviews towards this film. Especially as he had been coming off an amazing period in the last decade which saw him do three very different films with solid results.

    1. It's definitely worth a look. The question is whether or not it is successful at what it is trying to do. I think it missed by a little bit.

  2. I'm a big fan of Gregg Araki so I ended up liking this film quite a bit. Shailene is really good when she's given strong material, she was great here.

    And that ending. Did not see that coming. lol

    1. The only other work of his I've seen is Mysterious Skin which I love. This one was okay, but didn't quite work for me.

      No. Did not see that coming, either.

  3. Wow. You liked Green's performance 100x more than I did. I thought she really dialed up the ridiculousness. But, between you and me, she can ultimately do no wrong. Ever.

    As for Woodley, she is steadily building an impressive resume. I thought she nailed this one. Pun, possibly intended.

    Three teenagers? You have my respect good sir. All of it.

    1. She was a bit over the top, but I'm pretty much used to that from her. Thought it worked well, here.

      Woodley is awesome...and she nailed everything in this movie. Pun definitely intended.

      Yup, three teenagers. Sigh. Thanks.

  4. The 80s soundtrack to this movie is outstanding, which I listened to on spotify, but I still haven't seen the actual film, which based on the reviews looks a bit iffy. That said, I'm still curious to check it out eventually. From your review, it sounds good but not great.

    1. Yeah, good but not great sounds about right. It was a fun watch, just didn't come together like it should have.

  5. I wasn't a fan of this, sadly. I love Shailene Woodley, and while I thought she was very good, it wasn't enough for me.
    I'm a big fan of Eva Green too, but I thought she was a little OTT.

  6. Green was OTT, but I thought it worked for the role. The movie as a whole didn't quite work, unfortunately.