Synopsis – In 1988, a teenage girl’s life is thrown into chaos when her mother disappears.
My Take – Shailene Woodley is one actress I have gone from wondering & frowning at her sudden success to completely & absolutely falling in love with! Here, Woodley carries the film well as the central character Kat. Earlier last year, she just broke through into mainstream consciousness in two big hit films, as the action heroine Tris in “Divergent” (also the recently released sequel Divergent) and as Hazel in “The Fault in Our Stars”. She plays another teenager here, but with different adventures, mostly of the sexual kind. Her daring was quite unexpected for a serious young lead actress in this day, unlike the 80s or 90s. The story follows Kat (Shailene Woodley), a 17-year-old girl in the suburbs, growing up in the late 1980s who narrates the events of her mother’s disappearance (Eva Green) claiming she had never been in love with her father, Brock (Christopher Meloni). Kat believes she simply got fed up with Brock and walked out on him. Her relationship with her mother hasn’t been great either so she doesn’t seem to mind her absence. She is comfortable with her current situation and doesn’t think she even needs to talk to a psychologist about it. When she was young her mother treated her like a pet, but once she got older she began to resent her for her youth and beauty. Kat meanwhile is in a relationship with her next door neighbor, Phil (Shiloh Fernandez), who is her first love. Lately he hasn’t seemed too interested in spending time with her, and when her mother goes missing, she and her father file a report with Detective Scieziesciez (Thomas Jane) who she finds attractive despite the age difference.
Kat is very open with her two best friends, Beth (Gabourey Sidibe) and Mickey (Mark Indelicate) about her sexual life. There isn’t very much going on with the plot since Kat doesn’t think much about her mother’s mysterious disappearance and we know how she feels because she is narrating the story to her psychiatrist. Things change when a few years pass and Kat returns home from college. She discovers that her mother’s disappearance has affected her more than she realized and we begin to discover new elements about the mystery. This final act of the film plays out more as a traditional mystery movie and I was actually surprised with the final reveal. It is a shift of tone from what we had seen during the first half of the movie which played out as a coming of age sexual awakening tale. Although the story is simple, it was very tense to watch some of the scenes and the atmosphere was building throughout. It is a very thought provoking film all in all that had me questioning everything. The pacing of the film is just right, it managed to keep me intrigued the whole way through. The final scenes/twist were incredibly disturbing but for me it rounded the film off perfectly. The dream scenes complete the state of emotional blizzard that Kat unconsciously tries to escape from by being ignorant to her ordeal for two years. The movie uses the back and forth story flows very nicely, filling in all the empty spaces of details while building the two sides of time frame for the story. The environment depicted is also constantly fitting to the movie’s mood. Although it seems that the setting is like the normal life of a teenager, the scenes seldom has crowds of more than four people. Despite all of the above mentioned positives, the film has its share of negatives as well, especially the first act that is preposterously weird, some characters are very gimmicky or over the top and even though they still serve their purpose, you can’t look at the screen at times for how out of context they feel. Also, the film unfortunately never has under its control where it is going and whilst on one side that turns out to make for some surprises, it feels more as if it doesn’t know what it is doing at times. It has an ending that partially feels genuine and engaging but because of that it comes out as underdeveloped. Lastly, it is never fully absorbing or as devastating that it promised! For me, this film was two different films each of which could stand on their own, but these two are connected with a tenuous and awkward bond. One was about Kat and her issues. One was about Eve and her issues. Together though, the totality of the film comes across as an uneven mystery family melodrama that is at times a bit not too easy to digest! In her gutsiest performance to date, Woodley is most likely the main reason why the film feels almost authentic and not totally chilly.
Putting her body and emotions onto the table for everyone to see, Woodley makes Kat’s unconventional late-teenage years highly riveting. Kat knows that she should be more concerned about her mother’s disappearance, and she knows that she probably shouldn’t be discovering herself through sex, but she can’t avoid it, and Woodley portrays her with an equal amount of confidence and vulnerability. Woodley could potentially become one of Hollywood top actresses, and continuing with performances as good as this one will surely get her there. Solid and sexy as Woodley was though, she was still upstaged by Eva Green playing her disturbed mother, Eve. This vitally sensual woman simply has a commanding screen presence that her other co-stars in any film would find hard to match. From “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Casino Royale”, then recently in “300: Rise of an Empire” or “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”, Eva Green always ends up as the star audiences will remember most. The male actors play support to the ladies here. Playing the father Brock is the charismatic and reliable actor mostly known for his TV work, Chris Meloni. During the flashback scenes, Meloni and his toupee provided that little touch of humor this film needed. Thomas Jane & Shiloh Fernandez are likeable. On the whole, ‘White Bird in a Blizzard’ is one of the more interesting films of 2014, but it fails to pull off what it seemed like it promised it would. It’s full of terrific performances by the entire cast, but the direction and execution of this story felt a little off. The film drops you into a pit of identities and hopes that you come out slightly moved. I was, and I wasn’t sure why. I’m still not. The conflicting personalities of, apparently, everything, should be agitating, yet they work. And I’m 99% sure that it’s because of Woodley.
Director – Gregg Araki
Rated – R
Run Time – 91 minutes