Sunday, October 26, 2014

Review: White Bird in a Blizzard

Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
"White Bird in a Blizzard" is Gregg Araki's first serious film since 2005's powerful and haunting "Mysterious Skin," but the director's latest finds only marginal success in its tale of alienated youth.

Shailene Woodley gives it her best in the film's lead role as Kat Connor, a 17-year-old living in a suburb circa 1988 with her quiet father (Christopher Meloni) and drama queen mother (Eva Green). Then, one day, Eve (Green) disappears after a bout of some strange behavior - including sleeping in Kat's bed, wearing skimpy clothing in front of her daughter's friends and some peculiar outbursts - and never returns.

Kat is haunted by dreams of walking down a cold, snowy road, where she discovers her mother lying naked. Her shrink (Angela Bassett) has no easy answers for her predicament, while her pals (Gabourey Sibide and Mark Indelicato) suspect that Kat's father might know where Eve has gone.

Meanwhile, Kat's self described "raging hormones" lead her to jump into the bed of not only a dopey neighbor boy (Shiloh Fernandez), but also the slightly creepy detective (Thomas Jane) leading the investigation into her mother's disappearance.

Araki has made his stock in trade with tales of disaffected youth, beginning with his controversial 1990's films, such as "The Doom Generation" and "Nowhere," and eventually finding his way to "Mysterious Skin," which is easily his best and most mature film to date. His recent two pictures - "Smiley Face" and "Kaboom!" - were silly comedies, so "White Bird" marks his return to darker fare.

The film includes the candy colored palettes one might expect from an Araki film, but the picture also owes a small debt to David Lynch, from the occasionally surreal goings-on right down to the casting of Sheryl Lee (who played Laura Palmer on "Twin Peaks") as a new love interest for Kat's father.

While Woodley gives a pretty solid performance as Kat, the supporting characters are more of a mixed bag. Meloni plays haunted pretty well, but his character is a little difficult to read, while Sibide and Indelicato's roles do not have much of a function in the movie. Lee's character is in the film too little to register, Bassett is given little to do and Jane's character is not always believable.

This, of course, leads me to Green, who is a fine actress, but is miscast here. Her character is supposed to be a depressive, but mysterious woman, but it appears as if Araki asked her to play Mommie Dearest, with several of her scenes bordering on camp.

While "Mysterious Skin" tackled difficult subject matter (child abuse) and crafted a very moving story out of it, "White Bird" is not as successful in its take on marital dysfunction and sexual awakening. There are many of the solid elements you might typically expect from an Araki film - moody atmosphere, good use of color and a terrific soundtrack - but this one doesn't quite add up.

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