Parents' Guide to

White Oleander

By Nell Minow, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 16+

Upsetting and dark, for older than PG-13.

Movie PG-13 2002 110 minutes
White Oleander Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 14+

Based on 3 parent reviews

age 11+

White Oleander – Light Shade, Dark Consequence.

It’s a grim view of the Foster Parent scheme that’s offered up in this dark and often depressing story - of a young girl’s nightmarish journey for loving ‘support’. From a selfish mother to multiple foster failures, we follow Astrid (perfectly played by Alison Lohman) as she experiences varying levels of the ‘careers’ from hell - before finding her own place in the world. This cast is professional all the way with some of the best female stars of the day - showing us the way it should not be for a young girl to grow into young womanhood. The script is above average, complete with failed ‘Christians’ (and we, unfortunately, know some are out there) but, also suggests maybe the writers could have a scant understanding of what constitutes a ‘true’ against the deluded. The ending is about compromise but also shows a maturing - that sets Astrid on her way to a balanced life. Direction seems a bit erratic to begin but settles down to a well-informed last half. The large degree of handheld Cinematography at times feels claustrophobic (good for some scenes) but while not as shaky as we all too often see - needed better visual style for a smoother feel to the broader involving moments. Powerful entertainment, and strong indictment of a failed social structure within too many modern family units, and the welfare state that tries to save what it can - with limited resources leading to many failures for those who seek something to believe in, and a place to call home.
age 14+

Beautiful movie about hardship and endurance

Set in 1986, Astrid Magnussen (Alison Lohman) is a shy, artistic fourteen-year-old girl who idolizes her mother, Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), a beautiful, free-spirited artist. Massive Spoilers from this point on, so if you haven't seen the movie just know if your kids are mature it's ok! When Ingrid kills her lover, Barry (Billy Connolly), and is sent to prison, Astrid is thrown into the foster care system. Her first foster parent, is Starr (Robin Wright), a very religious woman. Astrid tries on the identity of a religious good girl, an identity her mother, an atheist, despises, but all is ruined after Ray (Cole Hauser), Starr's boyfriend, starts a very inappropriate relationship with Astrid. When Starr shoots Astrid in the shoulder, she is thrown back into a place called "Mac", a children's center where she is beaten, abused, and cuts all her hair off in a fit of fear and rage. She meets Paul Trout (Patrick Fugit) and the two quickly befriend each other. As Paul is a fellow artist, Astrid relates. But then, Astrid has to go. She is fostered by Claire (Renée Zellweger), a wealthy, fragile actress whose husband is never around. Claire begins writing to Ingrid, she brings Astrid and they all meet up. Astrid is told to let them talk, and Ingrid cruelly exploits Claire's low self-esteem. Claire kills herself after a fight with her husband, and yet again Astrid is in the system. She coldly refuses to go with Paul to New York, fearing she'll ruin someone else's life again. She rejects loving foster parents looking to adopt and instead goes with Rena (Svetlana Efremova), who sells Astrid's fancy clothes that Claire gave her on the flea market. Astrid hardens. Astrid also keeps drawing a woman she vaguely remembers. Astrid is approached by her mother's lawyer and asked to testify. She comes but with black hair, dark makeup, and black clothes. She says she will, but only if her mother answers some burning questions......

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (3 ):
Kids say (1 ):

Even Michelle Pfeiffer's exquisite performance and the powerhouse appearances by Robin Wright Penn and newcomer Alison Lohman can't keep the endless series of tragedies from melodrama. WHITE OLEANDER is adapted from a book with language both vivid and lyrical that made the terrible events more epic than sordid. The movie tries to achieve the same standard, going for prestige drama over soap opera.

A Jungian analysis might suggest that the story is a metaphor for the inevitable separation in all mother-daughter relations. All of the mother figures -- Ingrid, the foster moms, and the social worker -- are like one mother splintered into many extreme versions, as though reflected through a prism. All children find their mother to be many things, from the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving figure of their earliest memories to the extremely demanding and ultimately rejecting caricature she can appear to a teenager struggling to know herself.

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