White Bird in a Blizzard (2014) / Drama-Mystery
MPAA Rated: R for sexual content/nudity, language and some drug use
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Thomas Jane, Angela Bassett, Gabourey Sidibe, Mark Indelicato, Dale Dickey, Sheryl Lee
Director: Gregg Araki
Screenplay: Greg Araki (based on the novel by Laura Kasischke)
Review published October 1, 2014
White Bird in a Blizzard is as the cinematic equivalent of a brown turd in a punchbowl, and for those unfortunate enough to partake of either concoction, its aftertaste is just as appealing.
This film is a complete mess from start to finish, and the only mystery that will likely hold your interest through is the one that goes unanswered, namely, just what in the world sort of movie they were trying to make. It's astonishing that there's only one credited name for writer and director, Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin, The Doom Generation), because I would have bet money that the lack of consistent tone and delivery from setting to setting could have only come out of an experiment in which a new creative team had been brought in to do each respective locale shoot.
Based on the 1999 novel by Laura Kasischke, Shailene Woodley (Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars) stars as Kat Connor, a teenage girl living in a home with a crazy, shrewish mother (Green, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) and a milquetoast father (Meloni, They Came Together), set in the year 1988. Life sucks, but it changes suddenly when mom disappears without a trace.
White Bird in a Blizzard is a shameful waste of a terrific cast. Not that any of them are really playing parts that they truly belong in, but they seem to be completely out of their element when none of them appear to have an idea of the tone of the movie. Woodley seems to be trying to act as if she's in a typical teenage drama, much like the many that have made her a young adult star. She still delivers quality emotional reactions, but her sexpot character feels like a suit she can't fill, even if she goes topless a number of times in the film's occasional nude scenes.
Eva Green, on the other had, looks like she's channeling Faye Dunaway portraying Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest (mixed with a touch of Mrs. Robinson from The Graduate), with just a wire-hanger tantrum scene away from cribbing the persona outright. It's hard to buy her as anyone who'd ever be comfortable in the role of a housewife (more like a home wrecker), and certainly wouldn't be close to Midwest wife or mom material -- she looks like she stepped out of a Douglas Sirk flick and into the late 1980s, and with a curiously Euro accent to boot. In such over-the-top films like 300: Rise of an Empire and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, such a brazen villainess performance feels right at home, but put into the realm of quiet suburbia, it's jarring at best and a film-destroyer at its worst. And woefully lost Christopher Meloni fares no better.
I won't mince words, White Bird in a Blizzard is a terrible title in a terrible movie based on a terrible adaptation of what I hear is quite a well-written book (I haven't read it, but I hear the ending of this film is a radical and unnecessary departure). It's billed as a mystery, given there's a missing person and all, but there probably won't be a person watching that will be surprised at how things shake out at the end, except for the protagonist, whose subconscious is practically begging her to see the obvious.
That the characters themselves seem barely concerned about how their friends and loved ones lives are wrecked should indicate the level to which we should about the consequences of the mother's disappearance. When Araki does get back around to it, you'll be thinking, "Oh yeah, that was what the movie's supposed to be about, wasn't it? I forgot." Please don't try to tell me that the film is supposed to be a coming-of-age story above all else, because, if true, then it's even worse at that.
Some critics are apt to give Gregg Araki a pass, thinking turning in a nonsensical movie must mean it's brilliant, or that its frustrating inconsistent storyline means it's "challenging." I'm not among those, as I won't make any bones about White Bird in a Blizzard being one of the worst films of 2014, I don't care how much of an indie darling rep Araki comes in with. Watch American Beauty to see this kind of film done right.
©2014 Vince Leo