Lindsay Harvey, Marketing Administrator at Picturehouse, reviews this today’s Discover Tuesdays film WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD.
Writer-director Gregg Araki’s coming-of-age drama (based on Laura Kasischke’s 1999 novel) deals with many of the tropes ingrained in similar stories of someone on the brink of adulthood. Araki manages to avoid clichés however by creating something entirely unexpected, and revealing the dark underbelly of apparently conventional heterosexual, suburban lives.
The ever-impressive Shailene Woodley is Kat, a teenage girl circa 1988 who’s just getting to grips with her changing body and hormones when her poisonous, desperate housewife mother Eve (a deliciously melodramatic Eva Green) goes missing.
It’s not your average whodunit though. On the surface, the mystery behind Eve’s vanishing act plays second fiddle to Kat’s burgeoning teenage relationships with the stoner boy next door (Shiloh Fernandez), the cop investigating her mother’s disappearance (Thomas Jane) and her despondent, blank-faced father (Christopher Meloni).
Outwardly, Kat appears unaffected by her mother’s disappearance. In fact, in her counselling sessions she insists she’s happier without her mother around, and appears to have little sympathy for either her missing mother or her grieving father. However, her recurring dreams about searching for her mother in the midst of a blizzard hint at past trauma, and as the film goes on it becomes clear that she is more impacted than she lets on.
Araki deftly plays with chronology – scenes of Kat or her father arriving home after a day at work or school are replicated several times over, adding to the escalating sense of foreboding.
Each scene is genuinely stylish and Araki deliberately blurs lines between decades, mixing a soaring ’80s synthy soundtrack with Eve’s ’60s clothing and the ’50s tinged décor.
The notion of an embittered, bored suburban housewife is familiar, and Eve’s caustic discontent and Mad Men-esque outfits hark back to Douglas Sirk, the original master of ‘women’s dramas’ in the 1950s. However, Araki succeeds in making Eve far more than a stereotype, shrouding her character in layers of mystery and the woozy, dreamlike quality that is present throughout much of the film.
A series of twists are deliberately underplayed, so that expectations are simultaneously raised and lowered, making the ending both surprising and self-evident at the same time. It is precisely this thoughtful matter-of-factness that makes this film so touching.