White Oleander Movie Poster Image

White Oleander



Upsetting and dark, for older than PG-13.
  • Review Date: May 20, 2003
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2002
  • Running Time: 110 minutes

What parents need to know


Intense and painful family situations, murder, shooting, drug use, suicide.


Sexual references and situations, including predatory sex with foster parent.


Some strong language for a PG-13.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Alcohol and drug use.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this movie includes brutality of a modern-era Dickensian quality. Astrid is seduced by one foster parent and shot by another. A third commits suicide. Astrid is subjected to physical and emotional abuse. Ingrid murders her lover. There are non-explicit sexual situations and references. Characters drink, smoke, and use drugs. Characters use strong language and mock religious faith.

What's the story?

When strong willed artist Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) murders her lover, she is sent to prison, leaving her daughter Astrid (Alison Lohman) to a series of foster homes. First, Astrid lives with Starr (Robin Wright Penn), a situation that starts out fine until Astrid gets involved with Starr's live-in boyfriend. Astrid's other foster homes include Claire (Renée Zellweger), a weepy actress with a distant husband, and Rena (Svetlana Efremova), a money-hungry Russian who rules a ragtag group of orphans. In between, she stays at an institution, where she is beat up by tough girls but befriended by sensitive Paul (Patrick Fugit). Each setting provides Astrid with a new identity to try and a new opportunity to be hurt. Through it all, she visits her mother in prison, and it becomes clear that the woman who killed the man who tried to leave her would also do anything -- and destroy anyone -- to hold on to her daughter. Whenever Astrid seems happy, Ingrid finds a way to ruin it, leaving Astrid confused and self-destructive. Finally, though, she learns that she is reacting to Ingrid, and that to be fully her own person she must find her own way to intimacy and expression.

Is it any good?


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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how Astrid changes her appearance and manner to reflect each of her "homes," while Ingrid seems almost untouched by her surroundings.

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 4, 2002
DVD release date:March 11, 2003
Cast:Alison Lohman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robin Wright Penn
Director:Peter Kominsky
Studio:Warner Bros.
Run time:110 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:drug use, violence, sexual references, and intense trauma

This review of White Oleander was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 14 years old Written bySACYUC June 14, 2010

One of the best films i have ever seen.

I love this movie, it`s beautiful. One of the best films i have ever seen.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Adult Written bymsharpton April 9, 2008
Adult Written bywonder dove March 11, 2009

Astounding performances!

Performed beautifully by Pfeiffer and Lohman, this movie is exquisite. It deals with very mature themes and is not recommended for children of any age. I think it should've been rated an R, or almost. It is one of the most depressing movies I've seen, in a good way. Michelle Pfeiffer should have won an oscar! Renee did an excellent job as well and served the most heart breaking part of the movie, which I cried. I give it a 5/5.


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?