Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 21, 2014 3:27 pm 
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"Wildly uneven," but stylish fun

That Gregg Araki's White Bird in a Blizzard is sexually bold and outrageous and strange is no surprise coming from him, or any sign of failure to achieve goals set. The film reads like a shadowy, bright-colored dream. This adaptation of a coming-of-age novel by Laura Kasischke is a noirish, oversexed teen tale about Kat, a feisty girl (Shailene Woodley) who loses her virginity to Phil, the dumb hunk next door (Shiloh Fernandez) just around the time when her frustrated, tempermental mother Eve (Eva Green) disappears. And then she starts sleeping with the older and more macho detective on the case (Thomas Jane). Her best friends are local outcasts, an overweight black girl (Gabourey Sidibe of Precious) and a bleach-blond gay boy (Mark Indelicato). They don't add to Kat's enlightenment; they just talk dirty with her. Nor do her serious sessions with a therapist (Angela Bassett) clarify things. Is Kat the only one who isn't suspicious of her dad (Christopher Meloni), a milquetoast who can also be bossy and aggressive? This is only nominally a whodunit. Araki is in it for the odd mixture of tongue-in-cheek provocation and hinted Gothic horror. But the way he tells it, it doesn'nt exactly make sense, maintain a consistent tone, or follow a readable pace or time-scheme.

He may have done just what he wanted to do, only this time the result isn't as strong as a movie as most of Araki's other efforts have been, particularly his bold AIDS trilogy, The Living End, Totally F***ed Up, and The Doom Generation and the both dreamy and disturbing pedophilia story, Mysterious Skin. Critics, though not overjoyed on the whole with White Bird, have admired Eva Green's exaggerated (let's not say "campy") turn as Eve, the mother. There's general respect for Shailene Woodley as the daughter. Woodley is distinctive and appealing in whatever she does. Technically it's a fuller role in screen time than she's had before. But we may wonder if it was the wisest of choices; it's not the definite feather in her cap that Joe Gordon-Levitt's gay hustler turn in Mysterious Skin was ten years ago.

On the other hand, this may be read as a fable of adolescence as a modern American girl might see it. The disappearance of her mother simply underlines the chaos that is a girl's confused relationship with her body and her family. It's an oedipal event, leaving her alone with her father and pushing her to find other men. Luckily, her father, being "healthy" and "normal," finds another lady, May, who just happens to be played by Cheryl Lee, Laura Palmer of Twin Peaks !

I like that this movie feels like a dream (and it literally features repeated dreams of Eve that Kat has), while at the same time am aware this quality undermines any conventional dramatic or structural force it might have. While painstakingly evoking the late Eighties with music, clothes, and tasteless decor, it floats out of time, unhinged, feeling at once too long and very short. But it is beautiful to look at, and it's rich in lurid jokes that may play well in repeated viewings. Like any film that's largely style, White Bird in a Blizzard (I don't like the title, which sounds soppy, like Snow Falling on Cedars, or the cornily poetic snowstorm tableaux) may work best when watched without caring about the narrative at all. Only Araki would show you a murder while you're still laughing from a suurprise bedroom scene. Think David Lynch meets Todd Solondz meets the Todd Haynes of Far from Heaven and you'll have a notion what may be gong on here.

White Bird in a Blizzard, 90 mins., debuted at Sundance, showed at a dozen other festivals; internet release in September. Released in France 15 Oct to good reviews (AlloCineé press rating 3.6); admired by Cahiers and Les Inrocks. US theatrical release 24 October 2014. (Bay Area 31 Oct.)

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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