White Bird in a Blizzard
by George Wolf
Ready for a pulpy mess of lust and mystery? Gregg Araki’s White Bird in Blizzard serves it up with mixed results, buoyed by another terrific performance from Shailene Woodley.
Woodley is Kat, a 17 year-old high schooler in LA. It is 1988, and just as Kat is blossoming into womanhood, her mother Eve (Eva Green) is withdrawing into a bitter, vindictive drunk. When Eve suddenly vanishes, Kat appears unconcerned, even while her father Brook (Christopher Meloni) is reporting the disappearance to police and hanging “missing” flyers all over town.
Kat’s boyfriend (Shiloh Fernandez), her two best friends (Gabourey Sidibe, Mark Indelicato) and her therapist (Angela Bassett) all try to comfort her during the stressful time, but Kat insists she is fine. Frequent, vivid dreams about her mother suggest otherwise.
Director Araki, who also wrote the screenplay, adapts Laura Kasische’s novel with wildly shifting tones, anchoring the film with the solid portrayal of a sensitive young woman while surrounding her with surreal dreamscapes and over-hyped dramatics.
We hear a marriage described as “a lone drink of water from a frozen fountain,” and watch a character walk slowly away before turning on heel to proclaim, “I will tell you one thing’!” amid set-pieces bursting with kitsch.
And there’s Green, in manic Mommie Dearest mode, vamping it up in skimpy attire for her daughter’s boyfriend, then leaning back to release a condescending guffaw in her husband’s face. Green’s performance is can’t-look-away hypnotic, even as it crashes headlong into her young co-star’s authenticity.
Woodley continues to show the chops of a future Oscar winner, and she makes Kat’s complex emotions ring true, no matter what noir trash is going on around her. As Kat screams “What is wrong with you? Are you insane?” at her mother’s antics, the outburst cuts deeper than it has a right to.
The erratic flashbacks and anticlimactic ending add to a temptation to the label the entire project as simply amateurish, but Araki’s resume (Mysterious Skin/Kaboom) suggests otherwise. He’s got a vision for White Bird in a Blizzard and he sees it through in so many ways, some of them can’t help but feel right.