Sundance Review: 'White Bird in a Blizzard'

The image of Shailene Woodley all in white walking slowly through a dreamworld of endless snow as the music of Harold Budd swirls on the soundtrack is, as has been empirically proven, beautiful. Same goes with Eva Green in form-fitting pastel-colored homemakers' garb, smiling widely as she vacuums shag rug and cleans the knick-knacks with feather dusters. And you'd be hard-pressed to find anything negative to say about seeing young teens in an underground nightclub dancing to Depeche Mode under red and blue filtered lights (this last one being something of a trademark for director Gregg Araki.)

The point is, there's just too much good stuff to dismiss "White Bird in a Blizzard" out of hand, even if it does have a somewhat dull and desultory plot. Indeed, this is the type of movie where, as late as forty-five minutes in, you may squirm in your seat and wonder "when is this movie going to START??!"

Our lead is Shailene Woodley as Kat Connor, and she's a fairly typical teenager living in late 80s SoCal. She has a small circle of friends, the "weird" kids, a gay Hispanic (Mark Indelicato) and the plus-size African-American (Gabourey Sidibe.) She listens to all the smart alternative music of the period and has the cool posters on her wall.

As a gentleman raised in this time period I'm now remembering a lot of afternoons with girls just like Kat. I also remember the distinct pain of never quite having their affection. As was always the case, Kat is dating her buff next-door neighbor, perennially shirtless Phil (Shiloh Fernandez.) He's a dunce and she's basically using him for sex. In time she levels-up, sleeping with the very manly 40-ish former marine and current police detective played by Thomas Jane. She crosses his path when her mother, Eva Green (Eve), just disappears one day. In a time-shifting series of flashes (inspired by discussions with her shrink played by Angela Bassett) we see Green's descent into boredom and alcoholism during her marriage to Kat's dad, played by Christopher Meloni sporting a humongous, dorky mustache. The mystery of Eve's disappearance is, ostensibly, the conflict driving this movie, but I defy anyone to muster up the energy to care about it. Eve is a very phony character, and while Green hams it up "Mommie Dearest"-style, it never transcends camp. (Still, the MILF costuming is the best since "Stoker," if I may speak bluntly.)

What makes "White Bird In A Blizzard" (somewhat) worth your time is, as has always been Araki's strong suit, the portrayal of sexuality. Kat isn't a movie slut, but she clearly wants the D. (I'm sorry I'm being so coarse, but these are teens and they talk that way.) The whole missing persons rigamarole and its alleged twist ending (which also owes a tad to "Stoker") is wholly false, but the movie is at its best when it takes its eye off the ball.

As an example, Araki’s greatest moment of success here occurs when when Kat's new college boyfriend scolds her for smoking. It has nothing to do with the plot and doesn't even provide that much character momentum other than "she's searching for a new identity." Yet the sequence plays out at length. The performances are excellent across the board, the dialogue feels natural and the location (outside, in a typically modern University plaza) is framed nicely. Oh, if only the whole movie was this and it could leave the dopey whodunnit (and its accompanying dream metaphors) at the wayside.


SCORE: 6.0 / 10