Kat (Shailene Woodley) is 17 when her mother disappears without a word and without a trace. Kat, however, seems hardly phased by this, since she and her mother have had a troubled relationship since she became a teenager. As Kat tries to continue with her life, with her boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez) and with her friends, the absence of her mother hovers over her like a cloud. As time goes on Kat begins to wonder whether she will ever find out where her mother has really gone.
White Bird in a Blizzard is based on Laura Kasischke’s book of the same name and, while it is an entertaining coming of age, sexual awakening tale, it also does nothing to dispel the idea that Shailene Woodley is either deliberately following in Jennifer Lawrence’s footsteps, or there are no new ideas for young women in Hollywood.
Woodley is in her element here as Kat. Since first she caught our attention as Alexandra in The Descendants, it has been clear that this type of awkward teen role is where the actress is most comfortable, and it shows. Woodley has no trouble playing the hormonal teen or the Lolita, and moves comfortably between both, reminding audiences as to why she is so captivating as an actress. Eva Green, as Kat’s mother Eve, struggles slightly with the American accent, but embodies a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, with a manic gleam in her eye. Shiloh Fernandez plays the dim boyfriend well, Gabourey Sidibe and Mark Indelicato do fine as Kat’s friends, and Angela Basset is wasted in a small role as a therapist.
The screenplay seems to differ quite substantially from Kasischke’s book, and most certainly does not conjure up the same feelings of suspense and intrigue that are so praised in the book; Kat does not seem to care where her mother has gone, so why should the audience.
Gregg Araki, as director, allows Kat and her exploits to take centre stage, which means that the true heart of the book – the disappearance – falls by the wayside. Kat’s sexual awakening, and growth as a person seems to be the focus of the film, so by the time everything cycles around, the mystery is solved and Kat gets her resolution, it seems strange that she would react so strongly to something she didn’t seem to care about.
In all, Shailene Woodley carries White Bird in a Blizzard with ease, but she is consistently hampered by an unfocused script. As a sexual awakening movie, White Bird in a Blizzard is fine, but as a thriller it fails spectacularly, and never manages to adequately tie the two threads together. That said, Woodley is always a joy to watch on screen, and this low key indie is the perfect antidote to her high octane action flick, also released this week.