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.

Continue reading: White Oleander Review