WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD (2014)
reviewed by Jessica Elliott
"He is so simple that when you scratch the surface, there is just… more surface."
- Kat, in describing her boyfriend, and yet, the movie, as well.
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White Bird in a Blizzard sells itself as a sexual awakening story for main character, Kat Conner, just as her mother disappears without a trace. The juxtaposition of these two events lends some intrigue but on the other hand, it’s also a unique combination that could fail miserably, even under the most artistic of treatments. My hope was to see these elements handled with a refreshing perspective on events that have been talked about time and time again in film. Perhaps the book does it more successfully but Araki’s direction of it in film leaves much to be desired.    

KEYWORDS
Below average, confusing, boring, tired approach

THE GOOD
Dream sequences’ artistic nature

THE BAD
Poor casting
Unconvincing acting
Nudity for no real reason (oogling does not count)
Poor accuracy of character’s “wildness”
Empty
Obvious


WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
Kat Conner (Shailene Woodley) is 17-years-old when her mother goes missing. This event coincides with the beginning of her sexual awakening as a budding young adult and explores this chapter in her young life with boyfriend, Phil. Kat’s mother, Eve (Eva Green), is portrayed as despondent and at times, cruel, a product of the uneventful life she’s led ever since marrying her husband, Brock (Christopher Meloni). A former wild child herself, Eve demonstrates bizarre attention-seeking behavior, directly related to her losing her youthfulness and intrigue while Kat is blossoming into her own. 

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
White Bird in a Blizzard wants to be more interesting and maybe even revelatory than it actually is – but never quite reaches that level. It wants you to believe in the change Kat is going through sexually and what that must be like when having to deal with her mother’s vanishing at the same time. Separately, these events aren’t anything new to the movie screen but together – perhaps a promising story could have been told. It’s possible the book had a more interesting approach in melding these poignant moments in one’s life (not having read the book) – unfortunately, the movie had no such luck.

The shortcomings of this movie first come from the casting. Eva Green as Eve Conner, the mother, was completely unbelievable. Her acting left so much to be desired, instead coming across incredibly empty and forced. Even in moments where the character is in a happier point in her life (shown through flashbacks), you can’t ignore the unconvincing taste in your mouth. The father follows suit. Played by Christopher Meloni, Brock Conner is an amiable and simple man. His character is supposed to evoke empathy but again, falls short (problem with the script or Meloni’s acting?) and we’re left with what comes across as a sorry attempt to promote emotion. Rounding out the top tier actors of this film is Shailene Woodley as Kat Conner, their daughter. I can’t say I’m the biggest Woodley fan but have seen her turn it out in superb films like The Descendants so I did hope for something I could latch onto when it came to her screen time. I’m sorry to report this choice in role felt like a step backward. I saw the same wooden performance I noticed in the other two – that and toplessness. Quick side note: let’s talk about nudity in film. I don’t mind it when it feels natural or heightens the mood or scene in someway. However, when the scene is so obviously framed and the actors are staged so specifically so as not to cover a breast, it takes away from the overall importance of the scene and replaces it with a robotic quality. I never believed Woodley as this sexual creature, hungry for more. I saw her trying to act and wanting me to believe this character was going thru this period in her life. Who knows, maybe Woodley was unconvinced of her character’s motives and feelings herself. And then there’s the list of throwaway side actors Araki didn’t know what to do with (Angela Bassett and Gabourey Sidibe) and the sad interpretation of the 80s as a backdrop (pump up the Tears for Fears – we’re in the 80s now!).

The story starts off promising: Kat’s relationship with her mother waning as she became older, coinciding with her budding sexuality, in turn rivaling that of her mother’s. We’re supposed to be convinced of Kat’s coming-of-age sexuality thru her relationship with her boyfriend, Phil, and all the sex they’re having and how much she talks about it when she’s not having it. Oh but if that’s not enough for you to believe in her blossoming sensuality, maybe you will it when she seduces the detective (played by Thomas Jane) assigned to her mother’s disappearance case. Just a poor attempt in reminding the viewer that she is this sexual being who wants to get some booty wherever she can - unconvincingly, by the way. The detective fling was outright creepy and gross.

 The relationship between Kat and her mother becomes strained so when Eve vanishes, Kat’s response isn’t one of worry but relief. She is set free from the unexplainable strange behavior her mother was exhibiting soon before she went missing. Now, she and her father could live in a sense of peace and treat the vanishing of her mother as just that – a vanishing. Except for those pesky dreams Kat is haunted by of her mother (which, feel extremely misplaced with their artistic nature amidst such a flat reality) but dismisses them, even after going to therapy, and continues to go thru life, seemingly unmarred by this event. That is, until she returns home from college, drudging up feelings she thought were buried deep within her. Apparently, the disappearance of her mother has made an impact and soon enough, the truth is revealed. This obvious truth isn’t shocking by any means nor is the American Beauty-esque twist. Can you call it a twist when you saw it coming? At most, the ending will evoke a poor excuse for a jaw drop, which, could be mistaken for a yawn.

KEY SCENE (NSFW)
Eve barges into the bathroom after Kat has finished her shower and is inspecting her changing body and curves. It’s a poor excuse for a nude scene in which we see more staged Woodley boob action. This scene lacks the uncomfortable or confused state that comes with accepting your changing body and instead focuses solely on boobs. If I remember correctly, puberty includes a lot more than boobs. Kat startles Eve by barging into the bathroom proceeds to ask her if she loves her boyfriend and continues her drunk-induced babble about not ever loving her father. The scene ends with Kat angrily barging out, yelling at her mother to talk to someone else about her problems. This clip encapsulates the movie perfectly: boobs and hot air.
CONCLUSION
I have to admit – I have no idea why this film was made. Did it fall victim to a poor adaptation, truly making the case for why books are usually better than the film version? Or, was the acting to blame, leaving us empty and without feeling? There was no substance or suspense within the film, instead, it was filled to the brim with half-hearted attempts. And maybe that’s it – the film just took what a bunch of other movies have already done and tried to recycle them into this one. The film, overall, was amateurish and without feeling. There was no real sense of urgency in finding out why Eve went missing, no one cares Kat is a nympho (or wanting so badly to be one). There was no attachment to any of the characters, nor do we care what happened to them. None of the tired themes in the movie left any impression on the viewer. It was just booooring. I guess this white bird got caught in the blizzard and needs a fuckin’ snow plow, STAT.
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1 out of 4

 


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