White Bird in a Blizzard is a bad movie. It is a bad movie with a pulse though, which makes it almost worthwhile. Almost.
This isn’t entirely a shock since the film is directed by Gregg Araki, whose career is littered with frantic acts both good (Mysterious Skin) and bad (Kaboom). They are always a unique collage of heightened emotions and sass. Blizzard is no different. An adaptation of the Laura Kasischke novel, Araki’s movie stars Shailene Woodley as Kat Connor, a young woman in her late teens whose mother (Eva Green) has disappeared. With mom being disgruntled in her marriage to Kat’s dad (Christopher Meloni) and a bit of flirt, it’s hard for the cops or anyone else to pin down whether or not she was abducted or merely flew the coup. Initially, Kat doesn’t seem to care about the situation since her own relationship with mumsy was strained. Kat’s mom would frequently make vicious comments about her daughter’s weight and budding sexuality. She is the kind of a person who casually enters a room in a silky, sultry nightgown where Kat and her boyfriend (Shiloh Fernandez) are hanging out.
As the years pass by, Kat grows curious about the whole scenario. Why do some people suspect her meager father of knowing more than he says? Why does she have vivid dreams about finding her mother in various conditions? She seeks answers through friends, a variety of a boyfriends and even a cop (Thomas Jane) of which a strong flirtation bubbles.
It’s all presented melodramatically, which would work if the actors were working on the same page. Green goes big in her performance; Mommie Dearest big. Meloni and Jane are hitting on similar cylinders, acting more as archetypes than humans. Woodley sticks out here, shooting for a slyly rebellious mood that never convinces. It isn’t a bad bit of acting per se, but is more along the lines of a low-key Sundance drama than what Araki’s movie feels is necessary. She pouts and whimpers when she ought to shake and shout. As such a vital gear to the narrative, Woodley’s acting keeps White Bird in a Blizzard from soaring into the kind of camp it yearns to be.
Not that there aren’t other issues. The twists are pedestrian and expected. Melodramas carry a lot of their punch by way of its characters and here they are mostly stale. Meloni, as oft-kilter as he plays his papa, is underwritten, causing the whodunit element to come off as who cares. The conclusion is more expected than shocking; kind of the like the film as a whole.
White Bird in a Blizzard opens exclusively in Seattle at Landmark’s Varsity Theatre.