Combustible Celluloid
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With: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Thomas Jane, Shiloh Fernandez, Christopher Meloni, Gabourey Sidibe, Mark Indelicato, Sheryl Lee, Angela Bassett, Dale Dickey, Ava Acres, Jacob Artist, Jill L. Johnson, Brenda Koo, Michael Patrick McGill
Written by: Gregg Araki, based on a novel by Laura Kasischke
Directed by: Gregg Araki
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content/nudity, language and some drug use
Running Time: 91
Date: 10/31/2014

White Bird in a Blizzard (2014)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Mourn Birds

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The only other Gregg Araki movie I've seen to date is Mysterious Skin (2005), which I considered to be one of the best movies of its year. Watching White Bird in a Blizzard, I can see certain similarities in his approach to life in the suburbs, and the way that young people grow up there. It's not an entirely optimistic view; nothing is easy or clean, and happy endings are not common. But kids can get tough and have a way of surviving. The difference between what made Mysterious Skin great and what makes White Bird in a Blizzard merely good is that the new film takes time out to surprise us with a mystery story. Mystery stories are fine, but this mystery is far less interesting than the characters themselves.

Shailene Woodley stars as Kat Connor, and despite the strong performances she's given in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, she feels like a real young person for the first time here. She's not soft or weepy; she's not in a soap opera. She's drawn to vice for vice's sake, she's not afraid to want sex or to show herself naked, and pretends to have a handle on things when she doesn't. She's somewhat disgusted by her doormat dad (Christopher Meloni) after her mom, Eve (Eva Green), mysteriously disappears. We learn that Eve was wild and restless and the housewife routine drove her to resentful boredom.

Set in the late 1980s, the movie flashes back and forth from among the backstory of Eve, scenes of Kat dealing with the disappearance, and her coming home for a break after a year of college. Interviewing a police detective (Thomas Jane) to find Eve, Kat matter-of-factly decides that he's kind of hot and wants to sleep with him. She hangs out with her friends Mickey (Mark Indelicato) and Beth (Gabourey Sidibe) and they drink and talk about sex and how bored they are by their town. She has a sort-of boyfriend, Phil (Shiloh Fernandez), who she likes to have sex with, but who has stopped sleeping with her. A therapist (Angela Bassett) interviews her about everything (though she pretends everything's fine), and Kat's dad brings home a new girlfriend (Sheryl Lee).

Araki mixes all this stuff up in a kind of stream of consciousness, with a couple of dream sequences (including the white bird in the blizzard) though everything is rendered perfectly clear as to what it is and where it belongs in the story. Things only bog down when Kat and her two friends begin to stumble, Scooby-Doo like, on some clues, and Araki tries to save the information for a kind of final "gasp" moment. Araki's deep understanding of this world could have provided a long-simmering stew that eventually comes to a boil. Instead, his approach has the effect of purging everything, of building up to a payoff and a relief. Regardless, there's still enough good stuff here to make it worth a look.

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