Like most coming of age films, director and writer Gregg Araki’s film White Bird in a Blizzard celebrates freedom of choice, body, and supervision. Based on the novel of the same name by Laura Kasischke, the film tries to channel the ways in which a 17-year-old’s life changes as a result of her mother’s disappearance in the late 80s. Although the birth of sexual awakening from loss is an interesting topic, Araki doesn’t pursue it to it’s fullest potential.
The lack of empathy towards the characters and plotline ultimately emulates our feeling towards the film. The film weighs down with shallow characters and familiar scenes and events executed in the most unoriginal and slack fashion. It lacks consistency where we don’t know where the story is going, but end up not caring to discover anyway.
Kat Conners (Shailene Woodley) is an adventurous and independent girl whose mother, Eve (Eva Green) disappears. As her father, Brock, a soft-spoken man, (Christopher Meloni) expresses concern, Kat expresses apathy. Having always witnessed ongoing tension and animosity between her mother and father, she approaches the situation dryly.
Instead, the loss opens the door to a new found freedom for Kat, as she fearlessly and relentlessly pursues her sexual desires. Eve’s disappearance seems to be the least of her worries and she takes advantage of the parental freedom. Tired of being dodged by her boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez), Kat seduces the older Detective Scieziesciez (Thomas Jane) whose purpose in the story is close to nothing.
Throughout her mother’s disappearance, Kat attends therapy sessions with Dr. Thaler (Angela Basset) where some of her emotions from her mother’s disappearance are unveiled. They also reveal the kind of woman Eve was and drops hints about her disappearance.
Eve is perhaps the most interesting character in the film. She’s a hot mess—beautiful, elegant, yet deranged. As Kat grows and changes physically into a young woman, her mother grows more agitated and hostile. Witnessing Kat’s youth only makes her loathe her marital life more and she despicably finds uncomfortable and inappropriate ways to somehow turn time.
It’s a shame that Araki didn’t explore more of this dynamic between Kat and her mother. There’s an interesting correlation that could have made the film appealing. Instead, the film flatly lays out a timeline of events that fails to draw out any conclusions. Even when her mother’s whereabouts are revealed, it doesn’t bring any sense of conclusiveness or fulfillment. There’s a huge gap missing due to the lack of character development that ultimately fails to establish any emotional investment.
White Bird in a Blizzard premiered in the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and is now available on Netflix.