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New Release Review - White Bird in a Blizzard

A teenager attempts to rebuild her life when her mother mysteriously disappears.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Gregg Araki

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Angela Bassett, Sheryl Lee, Gabourey Sidibe, Thomas Jane


Once one of American independent cinema's enfant terribles, Gregg Araki gives us his most conventional venture to date with this adaptation of Laura Kasischke's novel White Bird in a Blizzard. Ironic then that it features teen star du jour Shailene Woodley's least mainstream role, shedding both inhibitions and clothes in this '80s set drama.
It's 1988 and 17-year-old Kat (Woodley) arrives home from school to find her mother (Green, suburban America's least likely housewife) has mysteriously disappeared. Kat's not too bothered by this turn of events, having not enjoyed the best of relationships with Mommy, a cold-hearted woman who seemed to take immense pleasure in cuckolding Kat's mild mannered father (Meloni). The movie follows Kat over the next couple of years as she develops a sexual relationship with the detective in charge of locating her mother (her boyfriend seemingly having lost interest in sex), hangs out with her school chums, and visits a therapist (Bassett), all the while the question of her mother's disappearance lingering in the back of her mind.
I have to admit to being unconvinced by Woodley at the beginning of her career. The young adult franchise starter Divergent did little to test her range, but I was won over by her turn in The Fault in our Stars. She's equally impressive here in a role she likely sought because of its controversial aspects rather than in spite of them. She's so good in fact that she makes the supporting cast look decidedly amateurish when set against the young star. Her character is always the smartest person in the room, and Woodley's equally the best actor in every scene.
Araki's film has a listless feel, thanks mainly to its conceit of purposely keeping its main plot thread in the background, but its never dull. In some ways it feels like a twist on the central hook of Twin Peaks (Sheryl Lee makes a cameo here), asking what if Laura Palmer wasn't the prom queen but rather a suburban mother with no friends in her community? It's a movie that's in love with its late-'80s period setting and it's impossible not to be overcome with a glow of nostalgia if you were sentient at that time. Expect Woodley's teenage fans to develop a sudden interest in Depeche Mode.


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