Kat (Shailene Woodley) was 17 when her mother disappeared. We’re told this, what, three times over White Bird in a Blizzard? It’s at least twice. But, yes, her mother, Eve (Eva Green), disappears and is never seen from again, except in Kat’s dreams and nightmares. Oh, and in flashbacks, which comprise much of the film. I’m guessing we see so much of her because they hired a name actor to play the character.
How does the film play out? Well, mostly we just follow Kat as she goes about her business. She eventually goes to college, and returns home over a break to catch up with her father (Christopher Meloni), her old boyfriend (Shiloh Fernandez), and the detective (Thomas Jane) who was supposed to be looking for her mother, but wound up having an affair with her instead. Oh, and Kat also has friends (Gabourey Sidibe and Mark Indelicato), with whom she gossips and drinks.
Saying much more beyond that would be telling. It really does just follow Kat around for a while. During this time, we watch her grow up a little bit, learn that young adults need to separate themselves from their parents — living or dead, missing or right there — and … very little else. There’s a half-baked mystery plot involving Eve and where she might have gone, as well as a “twist” ending, which really isn’t a twist at all, and in fact should only come as a surprise to one of the film’s characters, but mostly it revels in just watching its lead. We enjoy that the most, too.
What’s the point of it all? Is White Bird in a Blizzard a critique of less-than-modern — it’s set in the late ’80s and early ’90s — suburbia? Is it just a coming-of-age story? You watch it all, enjoy a good chunk of it, and then reflect back and struggle think of what the whole point was. It doesn’t work as a mystery-thriller, its characters aren’t particularly deep, and there’s very little driving it forward. So, what makes it work? The dreamlike wonder with which it approaches its subject matter? The naturalistic dialogue? Director Gregg Araki’s approach to filmmaking?
Maybe it’s a little of all of that, in addition to good acting. Even if the characters aren’t particularly deep — only Kat gets any sense of characterization beyond the superficial — the acting is still very solid. If Shailene Woodley keeps turning in performances like she has here — and in other, kind of similar roles like The Fault in Our Stars and The Spectacular Now — she’s going to draw even more comparisons to Jennifer Lawrence, who many are currently saying is the best young actress working.
Meanwhile, Eva Green commands the screen as well as she ever as in a small but vital role. She’s quickly becoming one of those must-see actors, the type who are watchable in anything. Christopher Meloni’s intentionally subdued performance works well, especially in the few scenes he shares with his fiery wife or daughter. Gabourey Sidibe and Mark Indelicato are good in supporting roles, essentially existing to let Woodley play off for a few moments. And Thomas Jane is … actually kind of forgettable in his role.
The film is based on the novel of the same name, written by Laura Kasischke, and is said to be a relatively close adaptation, albeit with a different ending. If you’re a fan of the book, then you should check out the movie. It won’t offend you — at least, not because it’s a poor adaptation. It might offend you with some of its dialogue or content, but, then, it has been made by Gregg Araki. He wouldn’t be doing his job if you weren’t at least a tad bit uncomfortable while watching it.
White Bird in a Blizzard isn’t going to make you think too hard or care too much, but for the 90 minutes it’s on-screen, it’ll entertain. It’ll be an uncomfortable watch, at times, but also a moderately engaging one. The small moments are better than the big picture; the acting and the dialogue make them more enjoyable than the central mystery. Shailene Woodley is great in the lead, most of the supporting cast members do the best with what they’re given, and you’re not going to have a dull time with this movie.