Movie Review: 'White Bird in a Blizzard' (2014)

In the 80's on an ordinary day in the life of a mouthy teenager (Shailene Woodley), Kat's mother (Eva Green) mysteriously vanishes off the face of the earth.

Following her abrupt departure, Kat flashes back to the events leading to her mother’s absence, as she’s simultaneously haunted by disturbing visions. Her devastated father (Christopher Meloni) is beside himself with grief, a response that is not shared by his perpetually disgruntled daughter.

Throughout director Greg Araki’s trippy adaptation of Laura Kasischke’s novel, a backstory of vicious infighting between the mother and daughter unfolds, leading one to wonder what revelation this is all leading to. 

There is a streak of competitiveness to their relationship, a tone that sets off physical altercations, and bizarre outbursts from Kat’s unnerved mother, Eve.

Kat spends most of the movie stating the peculiar timeline of events rather matter-of-factly, as if reciting a mundane grocery list. Her cold demeanor borders on cruel, callous, and lacking in any compassion.

Her father treats her exceedingly well, and all she can do is snap back at him with degrading barbs that are unwarranted. It’s a pattern of behavior she shares with her mother, though she considers herself a superior person. 

The narrative’s wacky take on the recollected happenings, treats all of this dysfunction as exceptionally normal. There’s no reason given as to why Eve, a once loving and compassionate mother; eventually turned on her daughter.

It appears obvious that she’s suffering from a splintering mental state and yet no one takes a real interest in getting her help. After her mother’s disappearance, Kat has no trouble finding a therapist to work with and yet her mother is not afforded the same concern.

The many tangled threads are eventually weaved together in a hazy, nightmarish quality that makes "White Bird in a Blizzard" feel as if it exists in an alternate universe. The “wise” beyond her years young adult angle is cliché and a bit trite at his point, wearing thin on the previously paved road of other cinematically quirky wonder kids (here’s looking at you “Juno”).

After playing a string of girl-next-door sweethearts, Shailene Woodley sheds the skin of those personas in a convincing performance that does not shy away from being brassy. Kat is unlikable and Woodley does not play it otherwise; showing off her range by not attempting to self-consciously spin the character to be pleasant. 

She also manages to stand her ground opposite Eva Green, a tricky task for even the most seasoned of actors. Green, keeping that signature wily glint in her eye is mesmeric even in an erratic, and half-baked role that offers her little else to do, but act crazed. She makes it credible though.

Meanwhile Christopher Meloni gives an earnest performance that’s tenderness only makes Woodley’s Kat seem all the more heartless.

As a drama and mystery, “White Bird” is compelling as it keeps one guessing as to what all of the collateral information means, and where it is all headed. Learning why Kat and her mother’s relationship fragmented does not seem to be the point. Neither does finding closure for its core mystery, making a definitive answer feel all the more out of reach.

Kat’s coming-of-age drama falls flat given she is 16 going on 45. Therefore you cannot really call what she goes through during the course of the movie, an awakening.

“White Bird” is so blinding in its teenage angst and rebel without a cause mentality (heavy emphasis on the ‘without a cause’ portion) that it is almost too aloof to connect with.

Similar to finding that eponymous bird in a blizzard, it’s just as tough to spot the heart of “White Bird” and without it; this movie doesn’t have much of a pulse. Rating: 6/10

Want to hear more about this dramatic mystery movie? Check out the episode of War Machine vs. War Horse, I was fortunate enough to guest on, where we discuss "White Bird in a Blizzard", "The Burning Plain" and "Winter's Bone". Click here to listen

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