I remember how weird it felt, looking at a Harmony Korine film poster at my local bus stop. A poster of a film made by the same guy who did Gummo and Trash Humpers in a Dutch village. Obviously, smart film marketeers saw a potential audience for this film. They made the poster look like an average teen flick billboard and besides, Selena Gomez’ name was on it. Spring Breakers became indeed Korine’s highest grossing film by far, and, admittedly, his most accessible too. I’m pretty sure a lot of those teenagers that went to the cinema after being drawn by that deceitful campaign felt unpleasantly surprised though.
Gregg Araki’s White Bird in a Blizzard, an adaptation of the epynomous novel, might share the same fate. As Korine, Araki is one of America’s most outspoken independent film makers. His ouevre consists largely of fantastically stylized, weird queer fairytales, to put it bluntly. Great films by no means, but it’s safe to say they desire a particular taste. With White Bird however, he created a film that, at least at the surface, might appeal to millions of teenagers. Foremost because Shailene Woodley is in it, who’s in basically every teen flick these days. And even though White Bird is definetely Araki-light, it’ll probably disappoint a lot of people who’ll go to see this film for the wrong reasons.
The film takes place in 1988 and centres around Kat, a 17 year old high school senior who lives with her beautiful mom and hardworking dad in a peaceful suburb. Her situation at home is far from perfect though. Of course it is. Have you ever seen an American independent film which doesn’t portray a suburbian family as dysfunctional? Kat’s possesive mother (Eva Green, brilliantly casted as a hysteric house wife) is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Her father, who lacks flair in every possible way, pretends like nothing’s the matter. Meanwhile Kat is exploring her sexuality, which is a bumpy road of course, as her boyfriend hasn’t half as much appetite as she does. Then all of a sudden, her mom disappears. Vanishes into thin air. At first, this doesn’t really seem to bother Kat that much; her mother was a pain in the ass most of the time anyway.
Araki is great in creating an uncanny vibe throughout the film. Suburbia never looked this plastic and deceitful; the cinematography is simply stunning. Almost every shot looks like a painting with its stark contrasts and sharp framing. Then there’s the great soundtrack too; Araki probably only chose to let his film take place in the 80’s to justify the extensive use of ethereal 4AD pop. It’s a bit gimmicky, but it sure works. Especially the dream sequences where Kat is looking for her mother in a blizzard (hence the film’s title) are breathtaking both visually and auditory.
White Bird is not without flaws though, especially story-wise. You can’t help but wonder why Kat is so casual about her mother’s sudden disappearance. You do get to look a little bit inside her head during a few conversations with her shrink, but these scenes feel like a too easy solution. And there’s the twist at the end which seems to come out of nowhere, even though it’s very Arakian.
White Bird is sure an enjoyable watch though with its juicy wheredidshego plot, but works mainly as a visual trip: a 90 minute dream pop video clip. I wonder how long it’ll be able to keep the attention of sixteen year olds who are hoping for another Fault In Our Stars.