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Oct 22, 2014 5:07 PM

Review: Shailene Woodley gets lost in a blizzard

The Associated Press

By now, there should be no question in anyone's mind that Shailene Woodley is an actress on a rapid-fire journey to stardom. She's enchanted us in enough films "The Descendants," ''The Spectacular Now," ''The Fault in Our Stars" that one less-than-stellar film won't alter her upward trajectory.

Which is good, because "White Bird in a Blizzard" doesn't do her many favors.

Actually, let's amend that those Woodley fans who are excited about the news that she sheds some clothes here will probably not care a whit about whether the film meets its lofty artistic goals.

As for the rest of us, well, it's not that Woodley herself disappoints as usual, she's fresh, natural and always interesting to watch but the film is such an uncomfortable oddity that its overall weirdness ultimately swallows her up a bit, too.

There's a kernel of something tantalizing in "White Bird," writer-director Gregg Araki's highly stylized adaptation of the YA novel by Laura Kasischke about a teen girl discovering herself emotionally and sexually amid some serious family trauma. And few actors portray the awkwardness of teen self-discovery and sometimes its grace as well as Woodley.

But there's a fine line between stylized and campy, and Araki defiantly crosses it, in any number of cringe-in-your-seat, can-you-believe-this-dialogue, my-gosh-that-feels-fake moments. The voiceover narration is also particularly clunky.

Woodley plays Kat Connors, who's 17 when her tragically beautiful mother, Eve (Eva Green, going all-out vampy here, and then some, and then some more) disappears, leaving Kat and her repressed father, Brock (Christopher Meloni) alone and bewildered.

Where has she gone? That question would surely consume any household, but Kat seems relatively unaffected at first, assuring her dad that hey, Mom will come back eventually. Even in her periodic meetings with a therapist (Angela Bassett, not given much of anything to do here), she doesn't seem that upset.

Except for those darned dreams, where she's wandering through a fake blizzard, everything all bleachy white like in a snow globe and comes across her mother lying there, nude.

Araki has departed in various ways from the book, moving the action from Ohio to suburban California, and changing the time frame; we begin in 1988 and move ahead to 1991 (the soundtrack includes Depeche Mode, The Cure and Cocteau Twins).

He's also changed key details about Kat's two best friends. That's fine, but the dialogue between the three Woodley, Mark Indelicato and Gabourey Sidibe is inexplicably clunky.

The film hops around in time as it explores the mystery of what happened to Eve. We see her in flashback as a pretty young mother, frolicking with her daughter (once again, these scenes feel strangely fake, not to mention vaguely 1960-ish) and later as a frustrated housewife, chafing at the nightly chore of making dinner, competing with her own daughter for the attention of the studly young stoner, Phil (Shiloh Fernandez), who Kat's sleeping with, and slowly going nuts.

Woodley gets to be sexier and brasher here than we're used to (not to mention topless, and a bit more). Exploring her newfound sexuality, she even makes a play for the handsome, grizzled detective (Thomas Jane) who's investigating her mother's disappearance. Their seduction scene is one of the best in the movie, because it feels authentic, a quality often lacking elsewhere.

It all comes down to a doozy of a plot twist, and it's enjoyably shocking. But at the end you're still left shaking your head, feeling lost, wishing there was something tangible to hold on to perhaps a bit like being trapped in a snow globe.

"White Bird in a Blizzard," a Magnolia Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America "for sexual content/nudity, language and some drug use." Running time: 91 minutes. Two stars out of four.


MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.


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