Friday, October 24, 2014

Movie Review: White Bird in a Blizzard

White Bird in a Blizzard
Directed by: Gregg Araki.
Written by: Gregg Araki based on the novel by Laura Kasischke.
Starring: Shailene Woodley (Kat Connor), Eva Green (Eve Connor), Angela Bassett (Dr. Thaler), Sheryl Lee (May), Gabourey Sidibe (Beth), Christopher Meloni (Brock Connor), Thomas Jane (Detective Scieziesciez), Shiloh Fernandez (Phil), Dale Dickey (Mrs. Hillman), Mark Indelicato (Mickey).

All of the films of director Gregg Araki have a deliberate artifice to them. They are stylized in a way that at their worst – like The Doom Generation (1995) – that they can become completely detached from reality, and be little more than a smug, overly clever genre exercises that revel in their own style. At their best though, like Mysterious Skin (2004), thar artifice works well with the story – and make the films play like a distant cousin of David Lynch – using that artifice to actually go deeper into the story and characters than would be possible otherwise. His latest film, White Bird in a Blizzard, is somewhat in between those films. It is definitely Lynch-like in its candy-colored portrait of the dark side of 1980s suburbia. It is told from the point of view of a teenage girl, who seems incapable of seeing those around her clearly, perhaps because she, like all teenagers, are incredibly self-involved. The film is, in some ways, a mystery – but it’s really only a mystery to the narrator, as everyone else in the film (and the audience) can tell what happened before she can. As such, the film is rather anti-climactic – but it’s that way by design (at I think it’s by design).

The movie stars Shailene Woodley in her best performance this year (in a film that will make a tiny fraction of her two huge hits – Divergent and The Fault of Our Stars, two bad films that she nonetheless shines in) – as Kay Connor, a 17 year old girl. Her parents are Eve (Eva Green), a wildly theatric mother, prone to erratic behavior, who belittles her husband, and seems both overprotective and jealous of her daughter – and while some of the revelations late in the film help explain her some of her behavior, it doesn’t explain all of it. Her father, Brock (Christopher Meloni) is a quiet man at home – and seems to accept his wife’s belittlement with barely a comment. Kat loses her virginity to her boyfriend and neighbor, Phil (Shiloh Fernandez), who is a complete idiot in many ways, but a hunky one. Soon after he loses her virginity, she also loses her mother – as Eve simply vanishes from their lives with no explanation. The cops are eventually called, and Detective Scieziesceiz (Thomas Jane) investigates – but they don’t find anything. Her disappearance haunts Kat for the rest of her high school life, and into university, while Phil starts to drift away from her, and Brock becomes more distant from her as well.

The film is told from Kat’s point-of-view, and revolves her almost completely. No matter who she is talking to, the conversation is about her – even when discussing her mother’s disappearance, it’s more about how it made Kat feel, than who Eve really was. As a result of this, Kat is the only three dimensional character in the film – and Woodley makes the most of the opportunity, playing charming, funny, smart, sexy, and also self-involved and rather selfish. The rest of the cast basically exist only in the roles that Kat has cast for them in her life – the neurotic mother, the henpecked father, the sexy dumbbell boyfriend, the sexual exciting older cop, the ever supportive black friend , the comedic gay sidekick, the shrink, etc. As the movie goes along, and Kat therefore gets older (it takes place over the span of a few years), she starts to see the characters more for who they are, and less who she cast them as – they become more complicated and complex.

This is both fascinating, and somewhat frustrating. The film is based on a Young Adult novel by Laura Kasischke, which I have not read, but the film it has inspired is more honest about life as teenager than most Young Adult novels are. This one sees teenagers more as they actually are, than how they want to be perceived, which is what those novels usually feed. The film is basically about growing up – and how as we grow, we become less self-involved, and are better able to see clearly those who are around us – not just the way we see them. The supporting performances are stuck being one note for the first two acts, and then at least some of them take on darker shades in that third act. Eva Green, who plays Eve, never really gets that chance however – she’s already gone by then. She is slightly more subdued here than in 300: Rise of an Empire of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – two bad movies this year that she enlivened whenever she is onscreen – but is more distracting, as she never quite seems to fit in with the rest of the movie (which, to be fair, may be the point).
The end of the movie is anti-climactic, and rather abrupt – but then again, I think that is the point here. The only scene in the film that doesn’t really involve Kat in anyway is supposed to help explain the mysterious behavior of three of the people are Kat, and to a certain extent it does, but it also comes out of left field. All of this is I think what Araki is going for here – but that doesn’t mean it’s wholly satisfying. I think ultimately White Bird in a Blizzard is a film that is more interesting to talk about than it is to see – although perhaps a second viewing, knowing what Araki is going for what be beneficial. But it is still another distinct entry is a very strange filmography by Araki – and that in itself is reason enough to see it.

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