Movie Review: ‘White Bird in a Blizzard’

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White Bird in a Blizzard Movie Review

Shailene Woodley stars in ‘White Bird in a Blizzard’ (Photo by Sandra Valde-Hansen/Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

I haven’t seen a bad performance out of Shailene Woodley. Some of that may be due to a string of roles that have similar sensibilities and so while each character has range, that range isn’t so far removed from the others. Still, I have to give her credit and I continue to want to see what films she’s involved with in the future.

Having said that, I’m rather disappointed in White Bird in a Blizzard. Based on the novel by Laura Kasischke and written for the screen by director Gregg Araki, the movie is a period piece (of sorts) about a teenage girl (Woodley) whose mother (Eva Green) goes missing. And rather than spend lots of time trying to fancifully spin things, let’s just get it all out of the way. The movie slowly chugs along, starting in 1988 and jumping to 1991. That’d be fine, if ANY of the characters showed some development whatsoever.

As I mentioned, Woodley does fine but her character goes nowhere. At 21-ish, she’s no different than she was at almost 18. Her father (Christopher Meloni) walks around like a zombie. Her mother acts like an alien trying to understand how to be human most of the time. Her high school boyfriend (Shiloh Fernandez) seems like an amalgam of almost every other Araki male protagonist. Her friends are such stereotypically cliché kinds of archetypes (an overweight black girl with sass, and a thin, effeminate gay boy) that’s it practically offensive. Even Thomas Jane as the detective assigned to find Woodley’s mother seems like some paint by number assemblage of what a grizzled detective should be (who’s both attractive and attracted to 18-year old girls). Woodley even has a therapist (Angela Basset) who doesn’t do anything to move her character forward. I mean, come one … you’re going to bring in a therapist, played by Angela Basset no less, and she’s going to do NOTHING?

I suppose if the point of the movie is that nothing in life can change who you are, then this is a freaking masterpiece. However, as I don’t think that was the intent, it all just seems hollow and flawed. There are even attempts to be twisty and crafty near the end, which are so simultaneously telegraphed and nonsensical that they just land like a dull thud on the ground. If it weren’t for my innate anxiousness about Araki as a filmmaker, leading me to think that anything could happen at anytime because he’s proven to eschew traditional sensibilities, then I’m not sure anything in this movie would have given my heart cause to beat.


Simply put, the movie’s plot is like a bad Law & Order: SVU episode; a comparison made more apparent with the casting of Meloni. However, I like Law & Order (even SVU). I don’t like White Bird in a Blizzard. And that’s sad because I was really looking forward to this movie because it was Woodley working with Araki. I thought that would make for something new and exciting. But as I tell many of my friends more often than I should: I’m no so smart.

If you’re thinking of seeing this for Woodley, just go watch any of her other movies. In particular, you could watch The Spectacular Now and see where this movie seemed to take all of its pointers for how to film a Shailene Woodley losing her virginity (this scene alone was really strange to watch considering it was so, so similar). If you’re thinking of seeing this for Araki and hoped that his luck in adapting Mysterious Skin to the screen would happen here again, just go re-watch that. If you’re thinking of seeing this for some other reason, just don’t. I’m perfectly fine when movies move at a glacial pace if there’s going to be some sort of payoff. Here, you’d just be paying the price of admission.

GRADE: D+

White Bird in a Blizzard is rated R for sexual content/nudity, language and some drug use.

– Reviewed by Ian Forbes

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Ian Forbes

Member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, writing film reviews since 2005. Curmudgeon and lover of Susanne Bier films. Sadly, unlike Candyman, saying my name three times in a mirror does not result in my sudden appearance. However, you'll likely find me wherever a movie is severely melancholy.
Ian Forbes
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