White Bird in a Blizzard (2014)
Editor’s Notes: White Bird in a Blizzard opens in Toronto this Friday, October 24th at Carlton Cinema.
It’s 1988, and beautiful housewife Eve Connor (Eva Green) has disappeared, leaving her distraught husband Brock (Christopher Meloni) and curiously unconcerned 17-year-old daughter Kat (Shailene Woodley) behind. More interested in fine-tuning her angst and sleeping with her hunky-but-stupid boyfriend than her mother’s disappearance, Kat nevertheless agrees to see a counselor (Angela Bassett).
Though she insists her life has hardly changed since the disappearance, her snowbound dreams tell a different tale, hinting at a deeper connection between the troubled mother and her put-upon teen.
White Bird in a Blizzard has the appearance of a lush, melodramatic period piece, its late-80s look perfected to the point of absurdity.
It’s these dreams that lend White Bird in a Blizzard its title, yet the dreams, though beautifully photographed, are less fascinating than they are filler, a series of literal and heavily stylized visuals meant to telegraph the solution to the film’s singular mystery. Giving the answers away is not necessarily a problem — it’s not where Eve is now, but the why behind her disappearance that propels the film. Unfortunately, the why is a muddled mess, a host of vague and disturbing incidents that culminate in an attempted shock ending that is silly and offensive.
White Bird in a Blizzard has the appearance of a lush, melodramatic period piece, its late-80s look perfected to the point of absurdity. Everything in the film has been fussed over to distraction, so much so it’s impossible to forget that this is all playing out on a movie set. To a point, this works, as the film’s store-bought aesthetic reflects Kat’s glossy recollection of what happened to her family in the late 1980s. Though Kat doesn’t realize it herself, the Connors were the epitome of bourgeoise Midwesterners: their struggles were banal, their passions typical, and even Kat’s rebellion was reflected in her love of alternative music — not true underground music, but commercialized, mainstream alternative music, heavily marketed to the teenaged consumer.
But somewhere between the Joy Division posters and Cure songs and casting of Bon Jovi and Brian Austin Green lookalikes, the fun and energy of the film was lost. So much of the film is concerned with borrowing bits and pieces from a host of cultural sources that it forgets that satire must, to a point, skewer that which it means to imitate. There are moments in the film ripped straight out of ABC Afterschool Specials, Judy Blume and Paula Danziger books; there’s faux Freudian insight and supporting characters who are alternately pleasant, funny and insightful in the exact way a television show that had to wrap things up in a tight 22 minutes would require. It’s all so very earnest, these moments, but they simply exist without commentary or observation, like expensive tchotchkes on a shelf that the neighbors never notice.
Though White Bird in a Blizzard boasts some fine performances, Shailene Woodley is simply not capable of carrying a film.
Though White Bird in a Blizzard boasts some fine performances, Shailene Woodley is simply not capable of carrying a film. This perverse coming-of-age tale where everything pretty much ends where it began means Kat starts out as an independent teen, ends as a slightly more independent teen, and suffers almost no character development in between; unfortunately, no one let Woodley in on the joke. Meanwhile, Eva Green is all smirking, simmering rage, the modified beehive and cocktail dresses of the chic American housewife of the 1960s establishing her as both out of place and out of time, alternately confused and angry about it. It’s both Green’s spectacular performance and the casting of Sheryl Lee that hint at something really interesting.
But Twin Peaks this ain’t. Though White Bird in a Blizzard does well in portraying that awkward, fascinating time when the 1980s had ended but the 1990s had not yet begun, it always feels like a pretender, a weak substitute for something that no longer exists. It’s beautiful and graceful, with some gorgeous framing and scenes flowing seamlessly into each other. Unfortunately, White Bird in a Blizzard is so taken with its own physical appearance that it forgot to cultivate a personality underneath.
White Bird in a Blizzard is so taken with its own physical appearance that it forgot to cultivate a personality underneath.