Vancouver 2014 Review: WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD, Gregg Araki's Nostalgic, Seductive Puzzle
Gregg Araki's latest offering, White Bird In A Blizzard, is set during the time period when Araki first began making films (1988-1991). Because of this, the sets and costumes are rendered with a loving nostalgia that never feels overly novel. It's an aesthetic that melds vintage Araki with the modern cadence of young actors like its star, Shailene Woodley, who was born just barely at the tail end of the narrative's span. Coupled with voiceover pop-prose - the screenplay is based on Laura Kasischke's novel of the same name - the result is endearingly odd.
Woodley plays the teenaged Kat, a typical cinematic only child from a broken home. What makes her home broken, though, is stranger than usual: her mother, Eve, has seemingly up and disappeared without a trace. As time passes, Kat's life continues on as usual, split between encounters with her increasingly distant bimbo boyfriend (Shiloh Fernandez), her sassy BFFs (Mark Indelicato and Gabourey Sidibe, who steals all her scenes), an affair with a much older man (Thomas Jane), and occasional orbits around her defeated dad (Christopher Meloni). It's only through sessions with her therapist (Angela Basset) that Kat begins to realize the extent of her family's dysfunction.
Eva Green plays Eve, one of the stranger screen mothers in recent history, with a slippery derangement that overshadows everything else in White Bird - including the rest of the talented cast. On paper, her role as a sexually frustrated mad housewife, jealous of her daughter and disgusted by her husband, doesn't exactly break the mould, but Green's leering eyes, snarling mouth, and sometimes terrifyingly deep voice ratchet her to Mommy Dearest levels of scary. There is also another layer of surrealism tacked on by the facts that Ms. Green is a young woman (34) and a French woman, playing an American homemaker nearly ten years older than her actual age. When her accent slips, the effect is eerie rather than detrimental, framing Eve ever more as an imposter, a spectre who disappears so easily from everyone's lives because she didn't belong there to begin with.
Kat's recurring dreams about her mother cast an otherworldly spell over the film, resonating even as the scenes turn back to the more mundane. This, and the shaky nature of Kat's memories recall Araki's own Mysterious Skin (2004). In the latter, however, the revealing of the truth was the gut-punch of the film, the reveal in White Bird is more of an afterthought. While the finale does position the work more securely within Araki's oeuvre and will probably satisfy those audience members who tear their hair out when loose ends are left untied, I would have preferred the mystery be left unsolved. Much like 2001's Donnie Darko - another 80s tribute with a dreamy teenage spirit guide - the payoff can never match the seductive fun of the puzzle the movie has laid out.
White Bird in a Blizzard
- Gregg Araki
- Gregg Araki (screenplay)
- Laura Kasischke (based on the novel by)
- Shailene Woodley
- Eva Green
- Christopher Meloni
- Shiloh Fernandez