Being a teenager sucks! And lame-o parents just make it worse, man!
17-year-old Kat (Shailene Woodley) is coming into her own – not just as a woman, but as a free, smart, independent-thinking person. She’s tired of being bossed around and depressed by her parents, that is, until her mother (Eva Green) goes missing. But while this freaks Kat out a bit at first, she gets over it and just focuses most of her attention on her boyfriend (Shiloh Fernandez) and going away to college. Her dad (Christopher Meloni) is all torn-up about it, but eventually he’ll get over it as, you never know, she may show up one day. But she doesn’t and Kat gets a bit more curious about just what the hell happened to her mother. Though all of the fingers point towards her father, she’s definitely positive about it not being him and instead, focuses her attention on that same boyfriend of hers and has to wonder whether there was something going on between her mom and him, or is it just apart of her imagination.
It’s a neat trick that writer/director Gregg Araki utilizes here in combining the crime-mystery part of this movie, with the coming-of-age other part and making it seem like this is just another simple tale of middle-class suburbia; people get sad, people disappear, people stop caring, people move on. And this is an idea I think Araki plays with more than on a few occasions by not just presenting his main protagonist, Kat, as the kind of free-spirited teen who does what she wants, when she wants, and how she wants to do it, all because she’s becoming her own person and doesn’t give an itch about if anybody tells her not to do so, but also with Kat’s mother, Eve.
See, with the character of Eve, and also, with Eva Green’s performance to thank, we see a woman who, at one time, was chock full of promise, spirit, and hope for the future of her life. Then, slowly but surely, and through flashbacks, we start to see all of that get sucked out of her and Eve become a totally different person than before. Why is this? Better yet, what caused it?
Well, Araki’s not in the mood for giving us the answers, but he definitely plays around with the idea of making us feel like we know what they are, only to then not focus on them and just keep his attention glued onto Kat and her story of growing up. And this, to me, was the most refreshing aspect of the movie; not only does Araki write smart, believable dialogue in which I actually felt like teens in the late-1980’s, early-1990’s would speak like, but he gets believable teen actors to play them. Such young wonders like Shiloh Fernandez, Mark Indelicato, and an especially hilarious Gabourey Sidibe all show us glimpses into the lives of a bunch of teenagers that literally have nothing else better to do with their lives than just sit around, get drunk, smile, listen to good music, sex it up with whoever is willing, and just overall, have a good time. It’s this youthful spirit of just not giving a fuck that so many movies try to aim for in a believable manner, yet, so rarely succeed with; almost making the creator(s) seem like they’ve never lived a day as simple teen.
But where this movie really shines, is whenever it focuses on Kat and her whole struggle with becoming an adult, making decisions for herself, and not constantly whining all of the time when things don’t always go her way. Which yes, considering this is a character played by Shailene Woodley, you could argue that it’s an unoriginal casting-decision on the film’s part, but Woodley is so good at playing this kind of role, she makes it seem effortless and almost fresh. She’s still sassy, back-talking her peers, and not holding back whatever it is she has to say next (although, she does get nude quite a few times, which is different for her, I guess), but it’s hardly ever non-interesting or boring to watch her do. Woodley may forever grow to be one of the world’s best actresses working today, but to me, she’ll always be that brash teenager, who could practically play the role in her sleep and get away with it.
Which is to say that when the movie doesn’t focus on Woodley’s Kat, the movie starts to get less interesting. And it’s not that the mystery-angle of this story isn’t actually a mystery, because it surprisingly is, it just doesn’t feel like it quite carries the same amount of emotional weight that watching Kat go through adult-ish problems does. Sure, we get a couple of scenes where we just witness Eva Green being over-the-top and constantly upset, but does it really make us feel like we know Kat as a character better? Are we really supposed to believe that who Kat is, now, or how she’ll turn out to be in the future, will be solely based on her experiences with her mother?
Maybe, maybe not, but at the end of the day, the movie doesn’t care too much about that angle to the story, and nor should it. We learn more about Kat, who she is, the reasons why she is the way she is, and who she wants to be, solely by watching how she goes about her day-to-day activities. Whether it’s having sex with the cop who’s investigating her mother’s disappearance (a hilarious turn from Thomas Jane); trying to make sense of her graphic nightmares with her therapist (a small, subtle Angela Bassett); or, simply put, just hanging around and trying to keep things simple with her daddy (Christopher Meloni in a creepy role), we get to understand Kat perfectly.
Everything else, well, is just filler. The kind of filler movies like these don’t need, especially when they realize that they already have something strong to deal with as is.
Consensus: As uneven as it can be, White Bird in a Blizzard still gets by with an engaging performance from Shaliene Woodley, and enough interesting, yet totally relateable tidbits to get across about being young, growing up, and eventually accepting your life as an adult, even if you don’t fully want to go through with it all the way.
7 / 10 = Rental!!