Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Sexual Content/Nudity, Language and some Drug Use
Directed by: Gregg Araki
Written by: Gregg Araki
(based on the novel WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD by Laura Kasischke)
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Gabourey Sidibe, Thomas Jane & Angela Bassett
Shailene Woodley is on a roll in successful teenage-friendly films lately and it should come as no surprise that Magnet would capitalize on her in the marketing for WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD. Woodley is the main character and it’s definitely worth noting that the film is told through an inner monologue (kind of like DIVERGENT and FAULT IN OUR STARS). However, this is nothing like either of those films in the realm of content. WHITE BIRD is actually based on a novel aimed at a slightly older crowd. This film is a mix between a coming-of-age tale and a Hitchcock-like premise. It also feels downright exploitative in scenes trying to push sex and profanity in order to shock the viewer. This is one of a few factors that make WHITE BIRD a disappointment, but not one without some positive qualities to highlight.
Kat Connor is seventeen years old when her mentally unstable mother, Eve, disappears in the winter of 1988. The sudden vanishing of her mom doesn’t seem to have a huge impact on Kat’s life as Eve wasn’t exactly the easiest person to get along with. After a few therapy sessions, an unexpected relationship and some developments, Kat is forced to face the actual blow her mother’s disappearance has on her life in Spring 1991. The film is told in two distinct time periods from two entirely different angles. The latter of which comes off as more realistic, convincing, and well-done than the former.
Separating the story into two distinct halves doesn’t exactly work for a smooth plot. It feels like this film has no middle. There’s a shaky beginning where the viewer is thrust into Kat’s mind and views a few details in her life that don’t necessarily pertain to her missing mother. There’s a solid enough ending that built up a decent amount of suspense. However, the shift from 1988 to 1991 feels way too jarring to stick with. It’s like two different tones without the glue holding them together. The second half is so much stronger than the first. This may be attributed to the fact that the character of Kat has grown up a bit and the emotional impact of her mom’s mystery is holding her back from truly living. Woodley is fairly annoying in the first half, but very compelling the in the second.
Other performers don’t seem to be giving it their all though. Two throwaway characters come in Kat’s annoying friends, while Thomas Jane feels like an unnecessarily big name to squeeze into a tiny role that only really pops up for three scenes (one of which moved the plot forward). Eva Green is over-the-top and seems to be channeling a combination of her characters from both Frank Miller adaptations she already starred in this year. Meanwhile, Christopher Meloni gives a surprisingly strong performance as Kat’s father. This character was way out there from what he usually plays. It was neat to see him pull off that range. To be fair to the cast, these characters aren’t exactly emotionally well-balanced. The dialogue feels unnatural, especially the sex conversations that seem to happen every few minutes. Shailene Woodley and Christopher Meloni deliver the best performances in this film.
Most of the positive qualities come in a rather dark final act that felt like it belonged in a far better film. This is where the Hitchcock-ish premise actually milked some tension. The conclusion itself might feel a bit lazy in speed-feeding the viewer scenes that might have been more affective if they played out in a decent span of running time, but the build-up is rock solid. I’ve heard that the movie deviates from the novel it’s based on in more ways than one (two of which regard the conclusion), so I can’t honestly say if the ending of the book might have worked better than the ending of the film. There’s a seed of a really awesome story in WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD. It’s left to die rather than grown into a beautiful film about dark subject matter.
The bad outweighs the good here, but doesn’t necessarily bring the whole movie down. I’m disappointed with WHITE BIRD, but it has its moments. Shailene Woodley is a solid actress in nearly everything I’ve seen her in thus far (DIVERGENT aside). Christopher Meloni is also worth watching, because he slips into his character with such skill that I didn’t recognize him for a while. The closing act is compelling, while the opening act is shaky at best. There is nothing to link these two halves in a satisfying way though. WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD is only worth watching if you want to see Shailene Woodley in a more provocative role, but I can’t outright recommend this one.