By: Scott Harvey, Columnist
For a movie making its nationwide premiere on iTunes and Amazon, “White Bird In A Blizzard” is a pretty high-profile project. Director Gregg Araki has been making thoughtful, well-received coming-of-age movies since the early 1990s, and the story is adapted from a very popular novel by Laura Kasischke. Not only that, but the movie stars the “it girl” of the moment, Shailene Woodley, a.k.a the brunette Jennifer Lawrence. All of these factors should have added up to a satisfying movie, or at least an adequate one, but unfortunately, neither of those adjectives is an accurate assessment of this film.
Woodley stars as Kat Connors, a teenager on the brink of adulthood, who lives with her dysfunctional parents. Mom Eve (a truly awful Eva Green) is a total nutcase who cannot stand everyman dad Brock (Christopher Meloni, sporting one of the creepiest mustaches in recent film history). But suddenly, as Kat is in the process of discovering all of the things that most 17 year olds discover, her mom disappears. A halfhearted investigation begins and Kat finds herself drawn to the brooding older detective (Thomas Jane, playing the worst cop ever) assigned to the case.
Despite the setup, “White Bird In A Blizzard” is not really a mystery. In fact, the movie is not really much of anything, which is a large part of the problem. It is not quite accurate to say nothing happens in this film, but giving a plot summary is difficult, because nothing that does happen seems very substantial the way it is presented by Araki—except for the climactic plot twist. Oh yeah, there is a climactic plot twist, and it is really something. Plot twists are not inherently bad devices but when they are executed as poorly as in this film, they can be incredibly frustrating.
Recall, for example, “The Sixth Sense.” When the truth about Bruce Willis’s character is revealed at the end of the film, it is a truly clever plot twist, because director M. Night Shyamalan sprinkles little clues throughout the film. It’s totally on the audience to figure out the ending. In “White Bird In A Blizzard,” however, the twist is unabashedly manipulative. There is absolutely no way to see it coming, and there’s nothing in the film preceding it that gives any explanation as to why it happens.
I have not read the novel that this film is based on, but surely, it cannot be as terrible as this movie. Surely, someone along the way would have stopped and said, “Wait, this character says what?” or “Wait, so what does this scene mean?” There are an inordinate amount of howlers in the film’s script but I think my personal favorite has to be when Kat monologues “And like that, my virginity disappeared. Just like my mother.” I will admit I laughed out loud.
Shailene Woodley actually gives a pretty good performance, but this is a movie she’s going to want deleted from her IMDb page. As for her co-star Eva Green–well, she may be the first actress in history whose finest performance was playing a Bond girl. Not only does she do the worst Joan Crawford impersonation I have ever seen as Kat’s insane mother, but she also, bless her heart, tries to do an American accent. It is hilarious and by hilarious, I mean disastrous.
Obviously, this movie is a mess. It feels like a John Hughes script directed by Paul Schrader with music by the guy who sound tracked Twin Peaks. There are dream sequences that lead nowhere, aggressively stereotypical supporting characters (Kat’s two best friends are a sassy African-American girl and a gay Hispanic guy), and way too much adult content to reach the teenage audience it seems to be targeting. I may not be a real movie critic, but I’ve seen enough movies to feel qualified enough to give “White Bird In A Blizzard” the 3-word assessment that one of my personal heroes, Pulitzer Prize winner Roger Ebert, gave “Duece Bigelow: European Gigolo”: this movie sucks.