White Bird in a Blizzard (2014)

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“I was 17 when my mother disappeared.”

White Bird in a Blizzard is a stoplight. In the triad of colors, the movie visually and narratively falls in the tawny, yellow hued middle. But despite its warm display, this is a hoary tale of abandonment, new found sexuality, and closeted secrets destined to be uncovered. It’s definitely strange and obscure and honestly most people will probably dislike it. However, if you squint your eyes and purse your lips hard enough, you find an incredibly tense and swirling thriller about the search for a mother while she is both present and missing. In the realm of recent teenage dramas, White Bird in a Blizzard reigns supreme.

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This heady thriller is never a freeway, instead opting to be a roundabout story of characters that collectively surround Kat Connor (Shailene Woodley). She’s every young man’s best nightmare. The type of beauty who can willingly seduce you and just as easily make you endlessly chase. Self-awareness separates her from her peers. She doesn’t need a personality test or a guidance counselor to help point her life’s compass in the right direction. Kat’s a strong young woman until her rapidly unsettling mother leaves the picture for good. Until the blizzard’s winds blur her sight.

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Kat’s father Brock (Christopher Meloni) is concerned and disconnected, a bottled up spirit who more often than not just sails along an unearthly sea of boredom. He’s also the source of maddening frustration for his wife Eve (Eva Green). We always sense something about her is remiss, that she mistakenly bought into the cozy, sheltered housewife lifestyle that no longer suits her. While she appears unstable, the film deftly hints that she hasn’t always been so. Her mental disintegration was caused by something else. Once she’s gone, you wonder what that something could have been.

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Spanning 1988 to 1991, the movie is a Nancy Drew mystery with a protagonist who freelances as a harlot. Kat’s never overtly slutty, but more interested in experimentation. Her boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez), the boy next door who always botches catchphrases, fails to satisfy her sex drive. So she seduces Detective Scieziesciez (Thomas Jane), the man working her mother’s missing person’s case. The atypical journey she takes towards self-discovery is the heartbeat and the pulse of the film. She goes away to college, her dad begins dating again. But even after years have passed, as both have come to terms and moved on, stowed away secrets are given new life.

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This is one of the better movies I’ve seen this year, but the back and forth cuts between different scenes are poorly done. In a 90 minute film, it’s imperative that every single part, every technical aspect and decision has significance. Director Gregg Araki fails to do so, even if it does appear to be a purposeful directing choice. It challenges the parameters of the genre, and by doing so never establishes a clear tone for the film. Some of it’s funny, equals parts unnerving, and at times carries a digressive vagueness. That’s the only fault on an otherwise well crafted film. It’s visuals sweep you up and the direct, perverse narration by Kat is a thing of poetic beauty. The dialogue is great, but pay attention to her unique lexicon while voicing the movie. It’s a standout example of how the storytelling device can enhance a film.

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Everyone brings their A game to the screen. Thomas Jane plays the rugged cop spot on and Meloni is finally given the kind of material he deserves as an actor. Eva Green floored me as the unhinged and deranged wife / mother. Since her character goes missing, she doesn’t get as much to work with, but still manages to spellbind you when she graces the screen. And Shailene Woodley, as we’ve come to expect, is outstanding in an emotionally and physically revealing role. A lot of times movies bring up questions and never bother to provide an answer. This doesn’t, and I promise the ending will blow you away. White Bird in a Blizzard is powerful storytelling.

“The beautiful woman she once was became nothing more than a phantom, wandering away in a snow storm.”

Rating: 4 out of 5

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