DVD Review - White Bird in a Blizzard

Shailene Woodley and Christopher Meloni
in a scene from 'White Bird in a Blizzard'
Writer-director Gregg Araki has adapted the novel by Laura Kasischke. As is the usual tactic, Araki lifts actual prose from the novel and utilizes it as narration. Sometimes this tactic works. Sometimes it doesn't. The tactic doesn't work in this film. Its narration is mostly clunky and obvious, and in one moment it's a horrible spoiler.

Shailene Woodley (The Descendants and Divergent) stars as Kat Connors, a teenage girl who realizes in the fall of 1988 that her mom has disappeared. Kat assumes that her mother has run off or abandoned her and her father. However, the premise is that Kat doesn't care that her mom is gone, given the breakdown of her relationship with her mother. Kat doesn't miss her mother. She has stray thoughts and dreams about her mother, but otherwise Kat is fine to have her mom vanish.

Kat has two best friends. Gabourey Sidibe plays Beth, the big black and sassy friend. Mark Indelicato plays Mickey, the tiny, possibly Latino, gay friend. Neither Beth and Mickey talk about or have their own lives. They exist only to talk about Kat's life, specifically Kat's sex life and at first lack thereof.

Shiloh Fernandez plays Phil, the boy next door. He's the son of a blind woman who is apparently a single mother. He's referred to as garbage and he on his outside seems like white trash, but he's actually sweet. He's cool and he can be fun. He helps to care for his mother, even at the sacrifice of his own personal life. He does develop an interest for Kat and he does take her virginity.

This is now the third film that Woodley has done where we see her play a character who loses her virginity on screen. The Spectacular Now (2013) and The Fault in Our Stars (2014) were her previous films where she played teenage girls falling in love and losing their virginities. However, Kat doesn't necessarily fall in love with Phil.

She's merely a young girl exploring her sexuality. Araki's previous films focus more on a young man exploring his sexuality. He could handle the task, but the most exploration we get is Woodley showing her breasts on screen. Frank conversation between Kat and Beth are clunky as naturally it would be, but therapy sessions between Kat and her therapist don't prove to be any better and fail to deliver on sexual exploration. Oscar nominee Angela Bassett plays Kat's therapist but only ends up being the film's biggest waste.

David Wnendt's Wetlands and Alan Ball's Towelhead are better explorations of a teenage girl's sexuality. There's similarity between this and Towelhead in that Kat has an affair with an older man. It's not a Lolita situation. Here, Kat pursues the detective assigned to the case of her mother's disappearance. Thomas Jane plays the detective.

The film floats along with strange regard to Kat's mom, Eve Connors. Eva Green (Kingdom of Heaven and Casino Royale) plays Eve, an exaggerated and bored housewife. Her depiction of Eve is all over the map. There is some suggestion that Eve is depressed or has some kind of mental illness or problem, but that's never made clear.

Then, at the last minute, the movie rushes through the mystery of what happened to Kat's mom. The film ignores or wants to ignore that mystery predominantly and then begs in hurried fashion to address it. The film has us not care about it for most of its running time and then asks or tries to force us to care and it doesn't work.

When it comes to the mystery, the voice-over narration spoils it stupendously any way. It could have been like Park Chan Wook's Stoker with Araki's use of a freezer in the basement being similar to Park Chan Wook's use of a freezer in the basement, but there is an indifference here, both from the protagonist and filmmaker, that turns off any thrills or horror that could have been present more consistently. Araki over-uses the image of Eve in the snow, which never has the menace, dred or intrigue that it could have.

Christopher Meloni (42 and Man of Steel) co-stars as Kat's dad, a man who seems like he's easily understood and simple. Meloni is good, as he usually is. There's an oddness to him that's endearing. It's sad to see his character veer more toward his character in HBO's Oz. It's not homophobic, but it possesses a kind of internalized gay panic, which comes out of nowhere. There's no foreshadowing. It's meant to be a shock, but ultimately it's a petty shock.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for sexual content/nudity, language and some drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 31 mins.


Popular Posts