A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although White Bird in a Blizzard stars teen fave Shailene Woodley (Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars), it's a mature independent drama with heavy themes and subject matter. Part coming-of-age tale and part Gone Girl-like mystery about what happened to Woodley's on-screen mother (Eva Green), it includes frequent conversations about and references to teen sex, and the main character is preoccupied with how often she can have it, either with her boyfriend or, later, a much older man. Woodley also appears partially nude (her breasts are in full view in one lingering first-time scene) a couple of times. The language is almost as mature as the sex ("f--k" is used many times, as are "s--t" and "a--hole"), and the violence includes references to domestic abuse and murder. Teens also smoke pot and drink.
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What's the story?
Director Gregg Araki tackles a gritty coming-of-age tale in his adaptation of author Laura Kasischke's WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD, the mystery of how, when young Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley) was 17, her beautiful, unhappy mother, Eve (Eva Green), disappeared without a trace. Kat and her father (Christopher Meloni) have no idea where Eve has gone and report her absence to a detective (Thomas Jane), who believes that she has most likely abandoned the family. Meanwhile, Kat is preoccupied with sex; her boyfriend, Phil (Shiloh Fernandez), who lives next door; and upsetting dreams she keeps having of her mother, who usually appears in a blizzard saying disturbing things. Kat starts seeing a therapist, Dr. Thaler (Angela Bassett) to work through her issues, but as the months pass, it becomes clear that perhaps Kat is suppressing what she might know about her mother's disappearance.
Is it any good?
Audiences expecting their favorite young adult-adaptation heroine to channel Hazel Grace or Tris should be warned -- this is Woodley playing a very different kind of teenager. Kat may be only 17-18, but Woodley is in her 20s, and this film is best reserved for adults who understand the nuances of adolescence and marital discord. There are unpredictable twists and turns, but they come a little too late in the film to keep audiences rapt through some of the more meandering portions in the middle. Overall, White Bird is wildly uneven, and the main character isn't particularly likable or relatable, but the performances are worth seeing, particularly Woodley and Green, who seems to be channeling Joan Crawford in her over-the-top depiction of an alternately bored and manic housewife.
Araki is best known for directing 2004's Mysterious Skin, a thorough exploration of adolescent sexuality that starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Now, he's again turning his attention to a gifted young actor (in this case, Woodley) in a tale set during a time in life when sex grows into an almost obsessive preoccupation. Kat's mother is gone, but she doesn't concern herself too deeply with the "what ifs"; she just assumes her mother got sick of her domestic imprisonment and took off for a life of self fulfillment. Kat is much more interested in figuring out why Phil has all of a sudden stopped taking her up on her sexual advances. Kat's focus on sexual release is unsettling, especially when she sets her sights on seducing the macho and much older detective.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of coming-of-age dramas. How is White Bird in a Blizzard different than other modern dramas about adolescents?
How is teen sexuality depicted in the movie? Do you think Kat is right that teens basically spend all of their time thinking about sex? Do you think her sex life was healthy? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
What do you think the movie is trying to say about kids' perceptions of their parents and their parents' marriage? Do you agree that most teens don't really know their parents as individuals?
- In theaters: October 24, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: January 20, 2015
- Cast: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni
- Director: Gregg Araki
- Studio: Magnolia Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 91 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: sexual content/nudity, language and some drug use
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