Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley) is being haunted by her mother, Eve (Eva Green), an enigmatic, isolated woman. Eve is being haunted by her past, seeing her youthful vibrancy and beauty in her daughter, which has bred contempt and jealousy. Then, one day, she simply vanishes from Kat’s life. Kat doesn’t know where she went, but believes she left due to the loveless marriages she had with her father. Eve is an absence from her life that she desperately tries to forget. She strikes up a fling with the detective on the case and thenceforth tries to move on in a life unmarred by her parents’ influence. The mystery of her mother’s disappearance lays forgotten until two years later when Kat returns home from college.
Director Gregg Araki has a distinctive style, one that was shown off in his tragic masterpiece Mysterious Skin, but White Bird in a Blizzard arrives not as fully realized as the former. Still, it imbues a similar eeriness in its tonality. In both films the lead characters are trying to shake off the remnants of their past while embracing a reckless energy that courses through them and tells them to dive headfirst into new identities. The way music flits in and out of the film, the surrealist, dreamlike nature of moments in these characters’ lives composed next to the destitute nature of suburbia, ingrains itself in the minds of the viewers. There are moments in Mysterious Skin that I’ll never forget: the lead’s face taking up the majority of the frame as his breath is chilled in the winter air; a blood-stained subway ride home; a moment of resolution and acceptance of past pain as two characters lie next to each other as none-the-wiser carolers sing outside their momentary safe haven. They are forever etched into my mind because of the meticulous care that Araki took in making the singular shots their own stories. While his newest film didn’t leave me quite as speechless, the similarities residing in a troubled teen and the artistry with which he surrounds her are at the very least equally as lasting. Araki is a tremendously talented director.
The problem lies not with the directing of the film, or even really the acting in the film, although I’ll get to that in a second, but with the writing and the pacing. It’s simply a dull film for a large portion of the running time. It teases with a few themes and ideas but never truly expands on any of them, and in the end I found myself digging for a meaning, finding one, and then left wondering if it was the message I was meant to come upon. The movie is about a young woman and her transition into adulthood, and the idea of how young people establish an identity without the input or influence of their parents. We are constantly given contrasts between Kat and Eve. Eve is the picture perfect 50s housewife with her billowing skirts, curled to perfection hair, and neatly done makeup. She’s putting on a show by playing wife and mother, a role that she never expected to resent so much. Kat, on the other hand, leans toward the punk side: she’s effortless and has a confidence that annoys her mother. Even the casting choices of the two are interesting (despite the fact that Green is too young to realistically be Woodley’s mother, but such is Hollywood). Woodley is the girl next door to Green’s larger- than-life woman. Visually they’re perfect contradictions.
Sadly, the opposing styles don’t work when it comes to their acting, which in the end only managed to aggravate me. Green plays up the hysteria in Eve’s voice and performs in a scene-chewing manner that leads up perfectly to a character meltdown. However, put that next to Woodley’s subtle charm and the warmth that she supplies, and you have two performances that seem as if they belong in entirely different films. This doesn’t take away from the fine work they both do, but it would have only helped if they’d have meshed more.
The film is interesting. I’m not sure I’d call it good, but Araki has a vision that’s worth tuning in for. He paints these portraits of dysfunction, misery, hysteria, and teenage life in such intricate and colorful ways that it’s hard to peel your eyes away. Not every decision is a good one, but they certainly aren’t typical either.
This is the story of one young girl and the upheaval her life takes when a stagnant presence in her life leaves and she’s given a chance to embrace her singularity. For years she’s lived with her mother’s voice condemning her choices and now all she has is her own self-reliance. It’s choppy, it’s oftentimes slow and unpolished, but it’s a fascinating look at independence and confidence.
White Bird in a Blizzard is on VOD now and hits theaters October 24th.