Tuesday, October 21, 2014

WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD: What's this? That rare, straight film from Gregg Araki...?

OK: Gregg Araki has made some more-or-less straight movies (remember Smiley Face?) prior to his latest work, the jokingly/descriptively titled WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD. But his sensibility has always seemed to me to be both gay and transgressive -- but funny and loony enough to keep most of his movies enjoyable and light, even when their subject was ostensibly dark. Except for Mysterious Skin, perhaps his best, which was strange, dark and haunting. Bird/Blizzard, however, seems at first glance and onwards to be especially concerned with straight family life.

This family, however, turns out to be  -- surprise! -- pretty transgressive in its own odd ways, and Mr. Araki (shown at left), as director and adapter (of the novel by Laura Kasischke), is here once again to capture it all for our delectation. Basically a bizarre coming-of-age tale, in which our heroine, Kat (played by Shailene Woodley, below, right, in her first let's-be-adult-and-get-nude! role, which she handles with the expected aplomb, charm and rather plenteous sex appeal), tells us all about her very strange mother (an even more transgressive Eva Green, three photos below), a beautiful-if-bizarre woman who has recently disappeared.

How and why mom has vanished is left open to all kinds of interpretations, most of which seem to fit, as Kat investigates one possibility after another, with the help (or not) of her boyfriend (that sexy young actor, Shiloh Fernandez, below, right, and bottom, left), her dad (that sexy older actor Christopher Meloni, at right, three photos below); the police detective on the case (uber-sexy Thomas Jane, at left, above) and her school chums (the not particularly sexy but plenty bouncy Gabourey Sidibe and Mark Indelicato).

Araki's movie is neither very suspenseful nor exciting, as you might expect a film about a woman's disappearance to be, nor is it exactly believable, in the realistic manner that movies about teenagers are expected to be. And yet it is almost always engaging and interesting, thanks to Araki' ability to keep us off base, while offering up a nice range of bizarre and transgressive behavior from every character on view.

Mr. Jane's detective is particularly off-kilter; Meloni's character -- initially appearing a sweetheart of a dad -- grows darker and odder; the gorgeous Ms Green's mom, a nutcase from first scene, simply continues along that path; while Fernandez, after initially seeming such hot and prime boyfriend material, full of energy, then grows weirder and quieter with each subsequent appearance.

It's up to Ms Woodley, then to hold the film together. Which she does -- whether she's exploring new sexual avenues or having that "white" dream that gives the film its title (below). Bird/Blizzard is both a coming-of-age movie and one in which the lead character discovers that life is actually chock-a-block with unexpected weirdness. Ms Woodley handles the first like the pro she already is, but adds her own oddly distant and somewhat withholding personality for the second -- to excellent effect.

The whole movie eventually begins to seem something of a dream (if not a nightmare), and at the finale -- in which revelations pile up in large number and at quite a speed -- Mr. Araki saves his very best for the last. This is one darkly witty "family" movie indeed.

White Bird in a Blizzard, from Magnolia Pictures and running 91 minutes, opens this Friday, October 24, in seven cities throughout the USA and Canada. In New York City, it plays the Landmark Sunshine, and in L.A. at the Landmark NuArt. The following week, on October 31, it will open in another fifteen cities. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters.

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