From the outside, 17 year-old Kat Connor (Shailene Woodley) lived a more or less normal life with her incredibly normal, almost void-of-personality father (Christopher Meloni), and her discreetly insane mother (Eva Green), who is obviously too good for her father.
They live a typical American suburbia life, if not, a little loveless and erring on the side of pale and almost too composed. Unsurprisingly, this family is a ticking bomb packaged in disguise, unbeknownst to everyone, even them. One day, Kat returns home from school to discover that her mother had vanished, lighting the fuse triggering the remainder of the story.
The film opens with Kat finding her mother, Eve, passed out on her bed, her mental stability visibly obliterated. Flash-forward a few days, and Eve is gone completely without a trace. Troubled to begin with, Kat seeks consolation in her slightly spacey next-door neighbor boy-toy Phil (Shiloh Fernandez) and her eclectic group of close friends (Mark Indelicato and Gabourey Sidibe), whom she comfortably banters with about her sexual endeavors. The rest of the film is split between two narratives, one that explores the backstory and incidents leading up Eve’s disappearance, and one that traces Kat as she copes with the loss of her mother while coming-of-age, going off to college, and transforming into a woman. The film is narrated by Kat, who, although is in deep denial or simply stupidly oblivious to the all too obvious dramatic irony, seemed to show a great deal of intellect and insight in her narration. The screenplay was great overall—nothing spectacular—but did have its fair share of skips and places that could’ve been smoothened out. For instance, when Kat narrates: “And just like that, in a blink, my virginity disappeared. Just like my mother,” the audience couldn’t help but groan at how cheap this phrase was.
The film is powerful, but, the cheap metaphor above that seemed like it came out of the mouth of a try-hard student in an undergraduate college arts course is pretty telling of Gregg Araki’s take on Laura Kasischke’s novel. The film is uneven, and, I presume, intentionally disorderly, like an off-kilter cross between the intensity of Gone Girl with the dryness and classic still-camera frames of Napoleon Dynamite. One such instance of the film’s discernible tackiness is the multiple times the story is interrupted with a random, seemingly arbitrary, supposedly-symbolic dream sequence that takes place in the middle of a Narnian blizzard, whose metaphoric purpose is not disclosed until near the end, when a ‘big’ reveal occurs. When it happens, however, we’ve already figured out the obvious, and it’s just anti-climactic and disappointing.
Stylistically incongruous choices aside, the majority of the film lived in a nice, heightened but highly truthful reality that was both exciting and fascinating. We are constantly uneasy, even when the dramatic action is calm, and the exposition is natural. I must also give credit to the director’s work in transforming an otherwise banal and almost uninteresting story into an extremely compelling exploration of love, lust, and sexual awakening, framed through the eyes of someone who deals with all these things: the American teenager.
Shailene Woodley, by far, had the most difficult job in the film, and she did a splendid job, portraying a wannabe edgy teen with requisite sensitivity and humanity to earn our respect and interest, irrespective of her choices and her immaturity. The rest of the cast was a mixed bag; Gabourey Sidibe as Beth does a great job as one of Kat’s most trusted friends, but she is wasted in an un-dynamic role like this. Eva Green seemed to have been directed to act over the top crazy, and to really show her lunacy, as if we couldn’t already tell, and her characterization proved a little much, especially in the context of her fellow actors’ performances. Though White Bird in a Blizzard does not reach its full potential, it is a solid story that intelligently tells a simple story with a surprising and abrupt twist at the end.
The Magnolia Pictures release hits theaters this Friday, Oct. 24.