Revelation Within a ‘Blizzard’
Three years after her acclaimed performance in “The Descendants,” Shailene Woodley has morphed into one of the best young actresses in cinema today. After the indie success of “The Spectacular Now,” in addition to the popular young adult novel adaptations, “Divergent” and “The Fault in Our Stars,” Woodley has become a go-to actress for playing the roles of troubled, yet modest and strong-willed teenagers.
Her newest lead role comes in director Gregg Araki’s big-screen adaptation of the novel, “White Bird in a Blizzard,” where she plays Kat Connors, a teenager that has been sexually repressed by her zany mother (Eva Green) whose lunacy is transpired by her jealousy of getting older while her daughter matures into a better-looking woman than she once was.
One day, Kat’s mother inexplicably disappears, and she doesn’t know how to properly grip the emotional toll of the event. Instead of grieving, Kat embraces her newfound sexuality that she wasn’t able to previously explore, which allows her to come of age into an entirely different person. Despite the love she has for her new life, she is occasionally haunted by a series of dreams where she tries to find her mother in the midst of a winter setting.
Woodley delivers a remarkable performance as Kat Connors, where she displays expert craftsmanship in deftly shifting between humble teenager and alluring seductress. This comes as a breath of fresh air for Woodley’s already superb acting range, and it also shows that she’s willing to step outside her comfort zone for filming more daring scenes than she’s used to.
Although they’re not on par with Woodley, Christopher Meloni and Thomas Jane deliver solid performances in the supporting category, even despite the fact that their characters have little screen time. Meloni is well subdued in portraying Kat’s father, and Jane is equally pleasant as a homicide detective whose machismo is overcome by Kat’s seduction.
Eva Green on the other hand as the mother, takes playing over-the-top too over-the-top. I understood the motive behind acting so maniacal towards her daughter, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that Green plays the role to a level of camp that surprisingly exceeds the film’s semi-serious tone.
As a notable member of New Queer Cinema, Gregg Araki is a filmmaker with a unique vision for how he explores very adult themes in a stylized way, and that is ever- present in this film.
He first attempts to satirize the supposed norms of American suburbia in the late 1980s/early 90s, but also constructs it as a way to reminisce the suburban boom of the 1950s. This is an approach that displays promise of being clever, but it quickly loses focus only a few minutes after being introduced.
Furthermore, the film’s dream sequences are nothing more than another case of Araki preferring style over substance. Each time the same dream reoccurs, all that really changes is that there’s more of the color white in the frame than there was before.
Araki’s best aspects as a director come through in the presentation of the film’s scenes where Kat comes of age in her adventurous sexuality, all of which are portrayed in a playful, yet still honest manner.
Solid as a coming-of-age story but under-realized in its other themes, “White Bird in a Blizzard” is still worth watching for Shailene Woodley’s enchanting performance. However if you are a fan of Gregg Araki’s novel brand of films, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
ONLY RECOMMENDED IF: As a whole film, “White Bird in a Blizzard” is a mess, but Shailene Woodley’s powerful performance is more than enough to warrant at least one viewing.