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Dustin Putman

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White Bird in a Blizzard  (2014)
3 Stars
Directed by Gregg Araki.
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Gabourey Sidibe, Mark Indelicato, Thomas Jane, Dale Dickey, Angela Bassett, Jacob Artist, Sheryl Lee, Brenda Koo, Ava Acres.
2014 – 91 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for sexual content/nudity, language and some drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 20, 2014.
17-year-old Kat Connor (Shailene Woodley) claims to not be too concerned or even surprised when her mother, Eve (Eva Green), suddenly goes missing one sunny fall afternoon, but the mystery of what happened to her will haunt the teenager for years to come. Written and directed by indie stalwart Gregg Araki (2005's "Mysterious Skin"), adapted from the 1999 novel by Laura Kasischke, "White Bird in a Blizzard" has seemingly been born, fully formed, out of its makers' wistful memories. Dreamlike though it occasionally is—and sometimes literally so, as Kat is met in her slumber by beautifully forbidding, frequently snowy images of her mom—the film blossoms from what feels like a personal place. The characters and their relationships are deeply felt, tinged with nostalgia and an awareness that nothing lasts forever. The setting, taking place between 1988 and 1991, only adds to the story's longing mood and specificity, the wall-to-wall era-specific soundtrack (featuring Tears for Fears, New Order, Talk Talk, Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Cure, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, Echo & the Bunnymen, among others) doing wonders to turn back the clock on a time Generation X will remember all too well.

While Kat borders on flippant when her mom disappears (in flashbacks, Eve is painted as a desperate and lonely individual who doesn't bother to hide her dissatisfaction at the life in which she has found herself), it is only a matter of time before the gravity of the situation sets in. When it does, three years later, she is left to question how she could have possibly been so ignorant about what was going on under her nose. Then again, maybe she didn't want to know, or was afraid to admit the truth. In the subtle but sure ways Kat changes as time goes by, Shailene Woodley (2014's "The Fault in Our Stars") mightily impresses in her intuition and expressiveness. Kat is a very different person at the end of the picture than she is at the beginning, and the internal and outward evolution she goes through—from a somewhat naïve high-schooler to a more confident and mature but slightly hardened college student in her early twenties—is poignant without calling attention to itself.

As the erratic Eve, very possibly suffering from a borderline personality disorder, Eva Green's (2014's "300: Rise of the Empire") performance is best described as a force to be reckoned with. Purging from her soul years of pent-up disappointment and frustration, Eve takes out her unhappiness on those around her in cruel and unpredictable ways. One can see how Kat was fed up with her mother, just as one can also see how no one did anything to help her. As Kat's quiet, nice-guy dad, Brock, Christopher Meloni (2014's "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For") underplays to lingering, sympathetic effect. Gabourey Sidibe (2012's "Seven Psychopaths") and Mark Indelicato (TV's "Ugly Betty") are exciting to watch every time they show up as Beth and Mickey, Kat's best friends. Their bond is an honest one onscreen, the three of them biding their time in a small town they know isn't for them. Shiloh Fernandez (2013's "Evil Dead") as Kat's evasive dumb-hunk high school boyfriend Phil; Thomas Jane (2011's "I Melt with You") as a seductive police detective Kat with whom Kat involves herself, and Dale Dickey (2010's "Winter's Bone") as Phil's blind single mother round out an excellent ensemble.

"White Bird in a Blizzard" lingers in the mind long past its conclusion, a coming-of-age mystery with a dynamic lead heroine and an oddness that never loses sight of its resonance. Some viewers may find the wrap-up abrupt or even pat, but its harsh yet thoughtful matter-of-factness is the reason it is so touching. Speaking in narration, Kat intermittently falls into verbose archness, but other times—most of time—finds surprising truth in her rumination about the strange, bitter, unavoidable corkscrews life throws at us all. "White Bird in a Blizzard" finds fresh angles from which to lock into that unique, tumultuous period when adolescence and adulthood collide.
© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman