I grew up reading Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys mystery “novels” and they turned me on to the whole mystery genre. There was a certain, frustrating fun to unraveling a case that led me to seek out mystery films. Now, those were just books for kids and the older I got, the more creepy and gruesome the mysteries became. I like suspense and intrigue and everything that goes into uncovering some big secret, as opposed to light material that leaves you mildly surprised. I can tell you that this film definitely isn’t suspenseful, creepy, or gruesome…
The year is 1988, a time where everything seemed so simple for anyone of youth. Teenage Kat Connor (Shailene Woodley) is starting the transition into womanhood and her body is changing fast than she expected. With that, her hormones grow and she begins spending more time with a boy named Phil (Shiloh Fernandez). Everything seemed fine, until the day her mother Eve (Eva Green) disappeared out of nowhere. Her father, Brock (Christopher Meloni), is just as taken aback as she is and the two seek out help from Detective Scieziesciez (Thomas Jane). The detective immediately catches the eye of Kat, who isn’t entirely sure how to process what’s happening in her life.
Lot’s of talking with a shrink (Angela Bassett) reveals more about Kat’s upbringings, especially all the wackiness that she went through with her mother. Apparently, her mother wasn’t entirely satisfied with her cookie-cutter life and grew jealous of Kat’s youth. However, Kat manages to put it behind her as she tries to move on with the help of her best-friends Beth (Gabourey Sidibe) and Mickey (Mark Indelicato). However, nights alone with the “sexy” detective bring Kat back to the mystery of her mother’s disappearance and Kat begins to question everything.
White Bird in a Blizzard presents a tale of late-twentieth-century suburban lifestyle, the repercussions of falling into a state of repetitiveness, and the growth of an adolescent girl with an absentee parent. All of these elements are combined together in a narrative that sounds just like a Nancy Drew novel, but with some talented actors and a unique director taking the wheel. The result isn’t entirely what I thought it was going to be and the build-up really didn’t do much for the film either. It’s a curious film that doesn’t have too much to say and that doesn’t leave you with too much to think about.
Shailene Woodley continues her string of successful performances and much like in Divergent, her wonderfully different performance carries much of this meandering film. Yet again playing a young women just discovering who she is, Shailene exceeds in her ability to convey emotions and connect with the audience on a deeper level. She goes further in this film than she has in some aspects of her vulnerability and her character here offers up a lot of depth. There’s something about her voice when she’s narrating that really clues you in to how this young girl thinks and takes in the world around her. When she is acting, you can’t tell the difference between her performance and the realism that she brings to the film.
Also continuing a string of a certain type of performance is Eva Green, who’s proved to be quite the femme fatal most recently in 300: Rise of an Empire and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Here, she plays a woman trapped in her home, living the same cookie cutter life each day and she can’t take it anymore. She lashes out at her family, makes inappropriate gestures in the name of being wanted, and commands the screen when she’s on. Alternatively, Christopher Meloni provides a more guarded performance that elicits more emotion from him than audiences are used to and he really does a great job of playing a mysterious character. The two make a horrible couple, which only emphasizes the uniqueness of each character and how they react to one another.
Other than the leading performances, White Bird falls apart pretty quickly. More than anything, it’s presentation of loss and over-abundance of narration don’t gel well together and drag the story on. Director Gregg Araki attempts to create a visually appealing world that demonstrates an arthouse essence, but it works against him because it takes us places that we don’t need to go. Araki is an “unconventional” director and his presentation of this film just left me scratching my head. He tries too hard to be artsy with his camera angles and effects and it honestly took me out of the film. I didn’t like the narration and how he handled his characters. He makes it blatantly obvious what will happen in the end and were it not for Shailene, the ending would have been ruined.
Gabourey Sidibe and Mark Indelicato are throwaway characters that only serve as Woodley’s guide’s to her end resolve. They play fairly stereotypical characters that don’t add much to the film and it was easy to dismiss them as the film went along. They’re the ones that, as well as the detective, make Shailene question everything and start asking the right questions. Shiloh Fernandez also forget how to act in this film because that guy did little to convince me of anything. His bad-boy persona is stupid and there’s an unnecessary amount of time spent on his character. More than that, everyone’s dialogue is pretty rudimentary and most of it comes off stale, despite some solid acting from the three leads.
White Bird in a Blizzard is a very short, very slow-moving “mystery” (if you can call it that) film that ultimately leads nowhere. Most of the characters you could do without and what they say is often absurd. Were it not for the always-great Woodley and two great turns from Green and Miloni, this film would’ve been a total disaster. Gregg Araki had a specific vision in mind for this film, but it’s one that’s not all that appealing. I can understand his vision to some degree, but his handle of his material and storytelling is quite detracting for the audience. This film isn’t completely bad, but it’s not something that’s worth seeking out right away.
White Bird in a Blizzard Trailer