With her impressive performance in Insurgent, not to mention her empathetic turn in The Fault in our Stars – yet again Shailene Woodley is the best thing about an underwhelming movie, starring in Gregg Araki’s overtly melodramatic feature White Bird in a Blizzard. The young, talented actress manages to find a strand of subtlety in what is otherwise one of the most unashamedly unsubtle films you will see this year.
Woodley is playing Kat Connor, a teenage who arrives home one evening to discover that her mother Eve (Eva Green) has gone missing, as her father Brock (Christopher Meloni) sits alone at the dining room table, desperately anxious about his wife’s whereabouts. As time passes by there is still no sign of Eve, and the police – and the family – have given up hope of her ever returning. As Kat struggles to come to terms with the ordeal, she requires the support of her boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez).
For a film to take such a frivolous approach, and have such an inclination for sheer absurdity – taking on the form of a soap opera in parts – Araki misses a trick by not revelling in such an environment, undone by his own sense of sincerity. What doesn’t help in this regard, are the cliched flashbacks that take place, as we delve into the relationship between Kat and her mother. Though this is arguably the most intriguing element to this narrative, it’s similar to the recent Reece Witherspoon-starring Wild in how the mawkish nature of the flashbacks do nothing but devalue the themes being explored in the present. Nonetheless, the way Eve lives vicariously through her daughter and the tumultuous relationship between the pair does provide the emotional core, while witnessing a loveless marriage from the perspective of the teenager daughter is a unique approach to what is a common theme in cinema.
However, this coming-of-age tale struggles to emotionally engage its audience, which in many ways, is down to the apathetic outlook from our protagonist. Kat is wildly unsentimental, seemingly not fussed about her mother’s disappearance. As our entry point into this world, given Kat doesn’t care, it makes it extremely difficult for the viewer to care too.