Daily | Sundance 2014 | Gregg Araki’s WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD

Shailene Woodley in 'White Bird in a Blizzard'

Shailene Woodley in ‘White Bird in a Blizzard’

“By now,” begins Chase Whale at the Playlist, “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…. Set in the late ‘80s, White Bird in a Blizzard revolves around Kat Connor (Shailene Woodley) and her incredibly 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, her life, and just wants to live like she’s 17 again—well on the depressing side of immaturity. Things get weird when Eve disappears without a trace, sending the family into a downward spiral of lies, hatred and promiscuous sex.”

Whale gives the film a B, while over at In Contention, Guy Lodge finds it “disappointing… It says a lot about White Bird in a Blizzard—not all of it bad—that its two chief assets belong in entirely different films. Teen queen du jour Shailene Woodley has an open-faced relatability that sits oddly in Araki’s preferred realm of irony upon irony; current vamp-for-hire Eva Green, meanwhile, is all stylized hauteur, as if playing Joan Crawford under Todd Solondz‘s instruction. (She’s pretty great, in other words.) Watching them play mother and daughter would be bewildering enough even if the age difference between the actresses wasn’t a scant 11 years—an oddity that at least feels native to ArakiLand, where everyone looks like the hottest possible version of themselves, preserved in baby oil.”

“To say that Gregg Araki’s bigscreen version of White Bird in a Blizzard isn’t quite what one imagined when reading the Laura Kasischke novel is like complaining that Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon doesn’t capture the models who posed for it,” argues Variety‘s Peter Debruge. “Araki, who seizes on White Bird as a chance to explore familiar issues of body image, sexual awakening and extreme family dysfunction with his trademark mix of uneasy seduce-and-repel tactics. It’s naughty, campy and wildly uneven—’a film by Gregg Araki,’ in other words.”

“The fallout from Kaboom, Gregg Araki’s bumptious sex sci-fi of 2010, is a colorful, but turgid coming-of-age story masquerading as a thriller,” writes the Guardian‘s Henry Barnes. “Araki’s special moves are all here—the soundtrack’s impeccably hip, the colours are saturated to absurdity, there is tons of acting down-the-lens and plenty of sexual discovery. But nothing really adds up to much, past a solid performance from Woodley and the energetic—if out-of-place—turn from Green.”

“If Araki’s dramatic triumph Mysterious Skin successfully balanced the filmmaker’s penchant for flamboyance and sensationalism with a sense of real pain and heartache, White Bird in a Blizzard flitters away out of his control,” finds Anthony Kaufman, writing for Screen Daily. “It’s a disquieting movie, for sure, which is Araki’s intention, but it doesn’t have the weight that the material demands.”

The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy: “Araki does spring a surprise twist at the end that departs from the novel; it’s pretty startling and amusing when it happens, but it’s also so out of nowhere that it’s tempting to say, ‘Oh, come on.’… As detrimental as anything to the film’s effectiveness are the visuals, which are murky, lack compositional interest and do the actors no favors.”

But at Thompson on Hollywood, Beth Hanna argues that White Bird “finds Araki in top form… The truest mark of Araki’s success with this very good if flawed film may be that its finale, while completely telegraphed, is still moving—tear-jerking, even. Araki finds wells of emotion and meaning that may belong just to the film, and not the source material.”

And while he gives it a mere 6/10 at, Jordan Hoffman grants that “there’s just too much good stuff to dismiss White Bird in a Blizzard out of hand.”

'White Bird in a Blizzard'

‘White Bird in a Blizzard’

“Honestly, I’m not sure Araki modulated his pitch properly with this one, which feels stilted by accident and not by design,” writes the Dissolve‘s Noel Murray. “But Woodley is terrific as always, and the movie has been rattling around in my head since I saw it, making me eager to give it a second shot.”

Reporting on the Q&A for Indiewire, Peter Knegt notes that White Bird is “Araki’s ninth film at the festival following Kaboom (2011), Smiley Face (2007), Mysterious Skin (2005), Splendor (1999), Nowhere (1997), The Doom Generation (1995), Totally F***ed Up (1994) and The Living End (1992). And it falls comfortably into that list. Sexy and hilarious and brutal and haunting all at once.”

Viewing. Araki and his cast talk to EW (3’01”) and Variety (1’48”).

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