By now, devoted cinephiles likely know what to expect going into a Gregg Araki movie: sex-crazed teens, an overabundance of nudity (sometimes pretty, sometimes not), a dream-like story wrapped snugly in a nightmare and a killer soundtrack. However, it would be lazy to call his work trashy — Araki is a brilliant director who finds a great deal of meaning in stories of teenage angst and sexual desire, and is perhaps the finest example of coming-of-rage cinema (please watch “Mysterious Skin“ now). While his latest film, “White Bird in a Blizzard,” is his most mature, it never deviates far from his comfort zone.
Set in the late ‘80s, “White Bird in a Blizzard” revolves around Kat Connor (Shailene Woodley) and her dysfunctional family, who are living crappily ever after. Her dad Brock (Christopher Meloni) is a pushover, and her mom Eve (Eva Green) is an alcoholic who hates her family and just wants to live like she’s 17 again. Things get weird when Eve disappears without a trace, sending the family into a downward spiral of lies, hatred and promiscuous sex.
Because it must be said: Green isn’t exactly the star of ‘White Bird,’ but she gives one hell of a performance. She doesn’t just chew up the scenery, she devours it whole (including every actor that shares space with her). Her vicious maw is as staggering, threatening to overshadow everyone who dares to come across her path. But the film’s standout performance may in fact be Woodley’s: her work in the film amounts to “I’m an adult, hear me roar!” Her character has the filthiest mouth, spends a great deal of the film nude and, at one point, has plenty of dirty sex with her boyfriend (hilariously played by Shiloh Fernandez) and blissfully describes co-star Thomas Jane‘s lower anatomy to her teen pals (Gabourey Sidibe and Mark Indelicato). You will never look at Woodley the same way again —she’s all grown up and not a little ‘Descendant‘ anymore, folks.
If you’re keeping score, mentioned in the first paragraph is Araki’s always-excellent use and carefully curated selection of pop music and this trend continues. Since “White Bird” is set in the late ‘80s, Joy Division, The Cure, and all of your favorite synth-pop bands are prominently featured, their instantly recognizable sounds oozing throughout the film. One massive thing to appreciate about Araki’s films is how the music he chooses works perfectly in sync with his imagery, providing a heady and intoxicating viewing experience.
‘White Bird’ is based on the book of the same name by Laura Kasischke, adapted by Araki. The film follows the same story as the novel (albeit with a divergent ending), but what’s so fantastic about ‘White Bird’ is the obvious homage to David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” throughout. The entire mood of the film doesn’t feel quite real—like it’s one long, ominous dream, with no obvious sign that the audience will wake up anytime soon. To top it all off, the mysterious doyenne of “Twin Peaks,” Laura Palmer herself (Sheryl Lee) has a small role in the film, which has to be Araki winking at the audience. All in all, “White Bird in a Blizzard” is worth seeing for Eva Green’s performance alone, and to experience the dreamlike quality of Gregg Araki’s individual, highly unique vision of cinema. [B]
This is a reprint of our review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.