White Bird In A Blizzard writer director Gregg Araki has spent most of his career telling subverted coming of age stories. A director who revels in youth in revolt but White Bird doesn’t focus so much on a rebellious teenager as it does one desperately looking for an identity.
Kat (Shailene Woodley) notices all is not well with her parents marriage when her vampish mother Eve (Eva Green) starts acting irrationally and her hen-pecked father Brock (Christopher Meloni) becomes even more withdrawn than usual. When her mother disappears without a trace Kat is left to piece her life back together but memories of her mother plague and influence her just as she is coming into her own.
There are two moments in White Bird In A Blizzard that strongly hint at Araki wanting to highlight the influence of director David Lynch. The first is a poster of Lynch’s Eraserhead lurking in a shot, the other is the casting of Twin Peaks’ Laura Palmer, aka Sheryl Lee, cropping up in an almost throwaway cameo. Add to this the Blue Velvet sense of perfect urban serenity hiding something dark beneath its surface and Araki is wearing his influences firmly on his sleeve.
The problem is that Lynch does this sort of ambiguous hyperrealism in his sleep, or nightmares, but Araki’s version of it always feels a little too wishy-washy. As such the story trudges along without ever really engaging, desperate to keep the mystery at the film’s centre blurred like the titular White Bird In A Blizzard, it’s there but you can’t see it and you probably don’t mind occasionally stumbling upon it. The result is a film that often feels a little devoid of investment and leaves you caring little about the revelation at the end.
It’s frustrating as the sub-plot of the film is infinitely more fascinating. Because the relationship between mother and daughter is one that raises interesting issues. The way Kat’s childhood memories of her mother are vibrant and playful, inhabiting an Edward Scissorhands colourful world that is idiolised. So when Kat grows up and begins to develop a body of her own their relationship shifts, suddenly the aging mother, now shot in drab, lifeless colours, resents her daughter. There’s a powerful examination of the young replacing the old, as Kat’s mother turns to her longingly and says “You look like I looked when I was you, I mean, you look like I looked when I was your age”. That juxtaposition of the daughter coming into bloom as the mother’s looks begin to wilt is one that could easily have been the film’s main focus but alas is only ever touched upon sparingly.
Green gives her character a wonderful sense of extremes. At first she’s the perfect Stepford Wife, cooking, cleaning making a home that would make Martha Stewart glow before descending into a Desperate Housewife, longing for any semblance of attention from anyone who will offer it. Woodley continues to prove why she is such an in-demand talent. Her performance radiates a teenage insecurity that belies a sexual confidence.
Like its protagonist White Bird In A Blizzard often lacks in identity but nonetheless offers some interesting personality quirks.