White Bird in a Blizzard (Gregg Araki, 2014)

One fateful day in 1988, 17-year-old Kat Connor’s mother vanished without a trace. As her father remains despondent amid her own indifference, Kat vividly recalls her mother’s escalating identity crisis in the face of droll, housewife-driven inanity, not to mention the lack of affection plaguing her parents’ shoddy marriage. Confiding in friends, a police detective and medical professional about said scenario, Kat’s coming-of-age tribulations are also covered in equal measure as she navigates the months leading up to and following her high school graduation. Did her mother simply disappear, or will a harsher reality rear its ugly head?

Among many a subjective and thematic contrivance, White Bird in a Blizzard possesses enough dramatic gusto to push past familiarity and a distracting on-the-nose ’80s aesthetic. Awkward and stilted, the wraparound mystery involving Eve’s (Eva Green) disappearance pales in comparison to Woodley’s Kat in terms of another noteworthy character portrayal and base level involvement. Although schadenfreude by definition, I’ve always found troubled youth – no matter how mildly – to be a fascinating subject. Illustrated to a noticeably more tragic degree in Araki’s Mysterious Skin, the maturation and self-discovery coinciding with particularly grim coming-of-age fare is almost always a welcome departure from the quirky and/or saccharine.

Even still, White Bird‘s core narrative is irreparably hampered by pseudo-poetic dreamscapes and general silliness. With the film’s title complimenting Eve’s hatred of complacency in her predetermined familial role, the revisited visual metaphor – presented as Kat’s curated dreams during therapy sessions – is as easy-to-decipher as they come and adds nothing dynamic to the mix. Laced with an overbearing, sort of lyrical aesthetic reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s equally subpar The Lovely Bones, a certain emotional weight is meant to be conveyed yet nothing is worth caring for, loathsome central characters included.

As viewers simultaneously suffer through soundtrack and wardrobe choices lifted embarrassingly from the source material’s wiki of choice, White Bird in a Blizzard‘s literally laughable third-act reveal serves as the straw to break the camel’s back. Steeped in unintentional hilarity – and I apologize for divulging said spoiler – the ending feels so forced in a “Gotta get ’em!” creative sense that I was left with no choice but to hate nearly all that preceded it. On the surface, Araki’s latest feature competently functions in the areas I’ve outlined despite the gravity of the core mystery. All things considered though, the film offers little in the realm of worthwhile dramatic conflict, and any semblance of poignancy flies right out the window with flashes of absurdity and genuinely unlikable characters.

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