The latest from director Gregg Araki is an adaptation of a Laura Kasischke novel about a teenage girl whose mother just disappears. After years of talking about how miserable she is and how much she hates her husband and her life, Mom just vanishes, without bringing anything with her. No suitcase, no money, no credit cards.
White Bird in a Blizzard is an odd little concoction, a coming-of-age story that, only in passing, is also a mystery. Shailene Woodley splits the difference between her angelic essence in The Fault in Our Stars and her sour personality in The Descendants to play Kat, an intelligent girl with raging hormones and a coarse mouth, who also has a sweetness about her.
She’s just trying to get by, despite having a mother so mercurial and crazy that Eva Green is playing her. Green is 34 playing 43, but she suggests the extra years with a voice half-trashed by bitterness. Honestly, it’s hard to say whether Green is terrible or brilliant in White Blizzard, but she is certainly something to see — standing at the top of the stairs like a white apparition, framed in doorways like some monster, yelling and flailing about how much she hates her life, and snarling at her husband with homicidal rage when he asks her to pass the butter.
There’s a point beyond bad and good. There’s a kind of performance that’s just a huge fact, that you can choose to embrace or not. Embrace this one.
Green, as well as Woodley’s sincerity and freshness, and a story with a few more curves and slopes than you might expect, keeps White Bird in a Blizzard watchable throughout. But the film’s atmosphere drags it down. Araki evokes the 1980s — most of the movie takes place in 1988 — with a synthesized hum underscoring most scenes. I lived through that entire decade and never heard that hum. Maybe it was everywhere, and so we all got used to it.
Even worse, for a film supposedly about young people, the conversations between high school kids are unconvincing, just random complaining about parents or talking about sex. Just about every time Kat talks to a friend, you get a flat wide shot, with bad dialogue and a couple of arbitrary close-ups thrown in.
Still, if you want to see a raving Eva Green, as Mom, waking up her daughter in the middle of the night to ask if her boyfriend is a good, uh, lover — that’s not exactly the word she uses — White Bird in a Blizzard is the movie for you.
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Gabourey Sidibe, Angela Bassett.
Writer-director: Gregg Araki. Based on the novel by Laura Kasischke.
A Magnola Pictures release. Running time: 91 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, nudity, drug use. In Miami-Dade only: Cosford Cinema.