White Oleander

"OK"

White Oleander Review


If it weren't for the cache that came with being a selection in Oprah Winfrey's short-lived book club, any film adaptation of Janet Fitch's "White Oleander" would likely have wound up as a weepy, cable TV movie-of-the-week melodrama in which struggling former stars cry out for credibility.

But Warner Bros. dollars and a dedicated pedigree cast make all the difference in bringing to the screen this earnest (if not profound) saga of a tender teenage girl's roller-coaster ride through foster care after her bourgeois artiste mother is imprisoned for poisoning an errant lover.

Michelle Pfeiffer shows some serious bite as the girl's affectionate but inattentive, domineering and pernicious jailbird mom, who becomes subtly but increasingly detrimental to her daughter's psyche with every prison visit. And with foster parents played by Robin Wright Penn (as an aging white-trash tart who sees the 14-year-old heroine as sexual competition) and Renée Zellweger (as a sweet but clingy, failed L.A. actress looking more for a girlfriend than a daughter), you might think inexperienced lead actress Alison Lohman (Fox TV's "Pasadena") would have a hard time standing out.

But she makes a potent yet understated impression as the willowy, doe-eyed, vulnerable but increasingly stalwart Astrid, whose sweet, pliable, eager-to-please character is slowly tempered into defiant independence through the hardships she faces in her formative years.

Some of Astrid's tribulations have the air of allegorical inevitability, like her early exposure to sexuality at the hands of a foster father -- an episode in her life that is given a PG-13 whitewash by director Peter Kominsky (as are any psychological consequences). But "White Oleander" has abruptly heart-aching happenstance up its sleeves as well, especially as Astrid's mother becomes inimical and manipulative in the name of tough love.

"I'm the only person you know who can keep you honest," Pfeiffer snaps at the anguished girl after having a hand, from behind bars, in one tragic turn in her life in the hopes that Astrid will grow a thick skin.

Kominsky -- a Brit who got the nod to direct based on the strength of a film he made about an underaged prostitute called "No Child of Mine" -- garners such distinctive performances from his cast that the actors largely make up for the picture's generic, arms-length feel of studio-mandated public palatability.

This Hollywood sheen bedevils the film from the very beginning (opening and closing voice-overs are such a screenwriting crutch) and can be felt most distinctly in scenes a few years down the road when Astrid has become a rebellious punkette -- or at least professional make-up and costume designers' glossy, designer-leather, not-a-hair-out-of-place idea of a rebellious punkette.

Lohman's moist, deeply emotional eyes shine through this bogus veneer however, connecting you with Astrid's ever-strengthening heart. But the actress's most meaningful moments come during the interludes when Astrid is between foster families and staying in a dormitory-school that's about a half degree better than being in juvenile hall.

It's here she decides that "life's easier without friends," even though this is where she meets the one person she comes to count on -- a long-term resident named Paul, played by Patrick Fugit ("Almost Famous") who is superbly warm and unaffected in his small role. As they bond over their mutual aspirations as artists, Astrid gradually lets down her guard, at first platonically and then, after a knee-jerked retreat, romantically.

Even with all the talent surrounding her, it is Lohman who drives "White Oleander" with her affecting ability to play the entire range of this girl's rough emotional journey.

I was quite impressed that an actress so young could pull it off -- even if in the film's later scenes I was unconvinced that she'd aged four years, because she just looks way too 14 to play 18. So imagine my surprise to discover that Alison Lohman is 22 years old. Now I'm doubly impressed that she played 14 so well that I couldn't imagine her any older.



White Oleander

Facts and Figures

Run time: 109 mins

In Theaters: Friday 11th October 2002

Box Office USA: $16.3M

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Production compaines: Gaylord Films, Warner Bros. Pictures, John Wells Productions, Oleandor Productions, Pandora Filmproduktion

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 70%
Fresh: 93 Rotten: 40

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Astrid Magnussen, as Ingrid Magnussen, as Ray, as Starr, as Miss Martinez, as Paramedic, Solomon Burke Jr. as Guard, as Niki, Melissa Marsala as Julie, James Lashly as Reverend Daniels, as Paul Trout, as Barry Kolker, as Claire Richards

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Julieta Movie Review

Julieta Movie Review

Iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is back with another powerfully complex female-centred drama, along the...

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

An astute satire of the pop music business, this raucous mock-documentary is consistently hilarious from...

War Dogs Movie Review

War Dogs Movie Review

Based on a rather astounding true story, this comedy-drama centres on two stoners who landed...

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

After a number of films, TV series and stage adaptations, Arthur Ransome's beloved 1930 novel...

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

The original BBC sitcom The Office ran for 14 episodes from 2001 to 2003, and...

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

Bold and intelligent, this dark drama is a challenging portrait of the making of an...

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

This hugely enjoyable adventure is a loose remake of the 1977 Disney hit that blended...

Advertisement
The Shallows Movie Review

The Shallows Movie Review

With a simple premise and plenty of visual style, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) takes...

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Watching this gross-out comedy, it's clear that the gifted cast and crew had a great...

Nerve Movie Review

Nerve Movie Review

With a premise that feels almost eerily current, this stylish thriller revolves around a phone...

The Carer Movie Review

The Carer Movie Review

Brian Cox gets the role of a lifetime in this warm comedy about living life...

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Writer-director Robert Budreau takes a stylised approach to this biopic of the legendary jazz artist...

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Jason Bourne Movie Review

It's been nine years since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum,...

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

Veteran Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) returns to a smaller homegrown story after...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.