White Oleander

"Very Good"

White Oleander Review


White Oleander is one girl's dramatic coming-of-age story -- emphasis on the word "dramatic." A bright teen bounces around some dreadful foster homes, gets street-tough while in a facility for abandoned kids, and witnesses more tragedy in three years than any person should see in a lifetime. With such relentlessly morose subject matter, you'd think director Peter Kosminsky's adaptation of Janet Fitch's bestseller would lean toward TV melodrama -- and while the script may do so, Kosminsky's deft direction and fine editorial choices make White Oleander an effective and well-paced story of self-realization and determination.

The novel White Oleander was a 1999 selection of the ubiquitous Oprah Winfrey Book Club and you can tell why: There are so many brutally dysfunctional people in the story that Dr. Phil could produce months of television delving into their sorry lives. Astrid (Alison Lohman) is an only child, growing up in the Hollywood Hills with Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), her eccentric, urban-arty mother. After a series of events that Kosminsky smartly keeps off-camera, Ingrid kills her boyfriend. Or does she? And how? Regardless, the beautiful, hopeful, young Astrid is picked up by state services and sent to live in a double-wide with a foster family.

Her troubles continue there, where a Bible-thumping, slutty-looking mom (Robin Wright Penn) has concerns about her boyfriend's (Cole Hauser) affections for the new addition to the family. So, it's off to the juvenile center, where she meets a sympathetic loner (Almost Famous' Patrick Fugit), and then on to another foster home. This one's got a compassionate but fragile B-movie actress (Renée Zellweger), living in luxury and looking for companionship while her philandering actor husband (an appropriately cold Noah Wyle) is away on "film sets."

And so on. It's just one tragedy after another for Astrid, but there's so much in White Oleander that really works that it's easy to forgive the Movie of the Week storyline. Most valuable is Kosminsky's visual approach -- the events of Astrid's life, as seen through her young and maturing eyes, have shocks of color but nearly all of them look washed out and raw through the lens of cinematographer Elliot Davis (I Am Sam). And by skillfully using a handheld camera where other filmmakers might stay static, Kosminsky gives Astrid's experiences a minor urgency and a distinct sense of claustrophobia. As her life closes in on her, the film's visual scope gets smaller.

That works best when Astrid visits her incarcerated mother (Pfeiffer's got to be the best-looking woman to ever grace the penitentiary). While Ingrid continues to manipulate her daughter and others, even from behind bars, Kosminsky keeps the action keenly focused on their conversations, allowing us to see very little that makes up the environment outside their emotionally insular world. What we get is a film that avoids soap opera territory because the filmmakers allow creative, well-plotted design to be their guiding force.

In interpreting the middling script, star Lohman provides honest emotion and detail while getting a chance to paint with nearly every color on the emotional palette. Pfeiffer successfully builds a mini-cult of personality through her two-dimensional character, a woman who preaches power and individuality as religion, just as her daughter comes to accept a God of her own. Zellweger, who gives her role a slightly wrinkled, movie actress countenance and a touch of resigned sadness, is especially likable. (In one particular moment of comic relief, the new "mom" shares clips from her work in a slasher movie -- it's actually Zellweger in The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.)

While even hardened, melodrama-hating cynics may find something redeemable in White Oleander, teenage girls may gain the most satisfaction out of witnessing a frightened girl evolve into a strong woman. And for everybody else -- just be thankful this one wasn't a made-for-TV movie.

You can turn Oleander into your very own home movie of course on DVD, which adds a few strung together deleted scenes and a typical "I really loved this book and this is how the project came about" Hollywood commentary track to the mix. Reviewed at the 2002 Boston Film Festival.

E.T. Part Two.



White Oleander

Facts and Figures

Run time: 109 mins

In Theaters: Friday 11th October 2002

Box Office USA: $16.3M

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Production compaines: Gaylord Films, Warner Bros. Pictures, John Wells Productions, Oleandor Productions, Pandora Filmproduktion

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 70%
Fresh: 93 Rotten: 40

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Astrid Magnussen, as Ingrid Magnussen, as Ray, as Starr, as Miss Martinez, as Paramedic, Solomon Burke Jr. as Guard, as Niki, Melissa Marsala as Julie, James Lashly as Reverend Daniels, as Paul Trout, as Barry Kolker, as Claire Richards

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Free State of Jones Movie Review

Free State of Jones Movie Review

Since its true story is still so timely after some 150 years, we can forgive...

Deepwater Horizon Movie Review

Deepwater Horizon Movie Review

This reunion of actor Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg feels like a natural successor...

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Movie Review

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Movie Review

Ransom Riggs' bestselling novel is appropriately adapted into a movie by Tim Burton, the gothic...

Get Back Movie Review

Get Back Movie Review

Roger Appleton's documentary 'Get Back' looks into the music scene that come out of Liverpool....

Imperium Movie Review

Imperium Movie Review

First-time filmmaker Daniel Ragussis takes an unusual approach to this thriller. Since it's based on...

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

Like a 10-years-later follow-up to 28 Days Later, this small British thriller takes a refreshingly...

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

Director Antoine Fuqua brings his usual fascination with violence to this remake of the iconic...

Advertisement
Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

As it's been 12 years since the last Bridget Jones movie, expectations aren't too high...

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

A-list director Ron Howard worked with the surviving Beatles to assemble this engaging documentary, which...

Blair Witch Movie Review

Blair Witch Movie Review

It's been 17 years since The Blair Witch Project shook up the cinema and created...

Anthropoid Movie Review

Anthropoid Movie Review

Outside the Czech Republic, few people know about Operation Anthropoid, a spy mission in 1943...

Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

From Laika (The Boxtrolls), this is one of the most beautiful, sophisticated animated films in...

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

An offbeat comedy-drama with a timely kick, this charming family road trip takes on some...

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan delivers another fiercely intelligent, engaging story that maintains high suspense while...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.