Friday, April 24, 2015

White Bird in a Blizzard

WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD (Gregg Araki, 2014)

Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley) is 17 years old in the fall of 1988 when her mother Eve (Eva Green) disappears without a trace in WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD. Eve was unhappy in her longtime marriage to Brock (Christopher Meloni) and did not disguise it. Kat’s father even tells her that her mother never loved him. Although Kat doesn’t appear overly distressed about Eve vanishing, Brock insists that she speak to Dr. Thaler (Angela Bassett) to deal with the unexplained loss.

Kat recalls her mother as anything but a maternal ideal. Eve could be brusque and seemed to resent a maturing Kat when she reminded her of her younger self. As Kat reflects on the last days when Eve was around, she admits that it is possible her mom could have been having an affair. In retrospect it certainly seems as if Eve was flirting with Kat’s stoner boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez).

Writer-director Gregg Araki presents WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD’s sometimes lurid story as a mix of 1950s melodramas, 1980s teen movies with a decidedly harder edge, and a little bit of camp. Outsized emotional currents sweep the drama along to where words and developments can be tragic and laughable. Taking notes from John Hughes, Araki douses the film in a post-punk/New Wave soundtrack emblematic of feeling like wanting to dance and cry.

The suburban southern California settings look as if they have been preserved in Lucite. Araki maintains the spaces as though the homes and communities are hermetic places as inescapable as one’s inner conflict about the unremarkable life. The bright and glossy visual texture lends an artificial feel to scenes no one will mistake for the epitome of domesticity. In Kat’s memories Eve resembles Joan Crawford with her glamorous appearance and ability to wreak emotional havoc. Green gets just a moment here and there to leave her mark and indeed makes a striking impression as if Kat’s mother is a star of the silver screen trying to steal the spotlight in her daughter’s life. She’s a presence even when unseen.

Eventually Woodley will age out of these coming of age roles, but again she does good work playing a teenager trying to sort out a murky future. Kat is not naϊve about her sexuality and the power it gives her, but when it comes to understanding who her parents are, WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD shows her to be more sheltered. Kat’s narration, which is hard to place in time, carries the wisdom of years later when she has processed revelations about her parents’ dreams, passions, and disappointments. Perhaps it comes when she can empathize with her 42-year-old mother because she recognizes the mental state and worldly knowledge inaccessible to her as a high school student.

Grade: B+

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