“I was 17 when my mother disappeared,” Kat Connor (Woodley) tells us at the outset. It’s a good hook. Her mother is Eve (Eva Green), who does indeed vanish without a trace one day following a period of increasingly erratic behavior. Kat’s dad Brock (Christopher Meloni) seems shocked initially but soon levels off, assuming a permanently blasé state. Araki does a great job establishing an aura of intriguing ambiguity. The non-linear structure allows us to see into Kat’s past, glimpsing her often distorted views of her parents. Their actual personalities differ considerably from how Kat perceives them. She considers her dad a “wimp,” yet she’s amazed to see his female co-workers fawn over him when visiting his place of employment. As Kat matures and becomes sexual active with boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez), mom becomes increasingly jealous (which makes Kat understandably uncomfortable).
So when Eve goes missing, traumatic though it may be, her sudden absence has a nearly stabilizing effect on Kat’s life. She visits a therapist regularly (Angela Bassett in an absolutely thankless role that could’ve been played by anyone), but Kat settles into a new normal with relative ease. She sleeps around, hangs out with her friends (Gabourey Sidibe and Mark Indelicato), and continues to regard her dad as an ineffectual milquetoast. Almost the only thing disturbing her controlled placidity is a recurring nightmare in which she meets her mother in the middle of a snowstorm (an image directly linked to the film’s title).
The problem with White Bird in a Blizzard is that Araki can’t decide if he’s making a character study or a whodunit. This particular story, at least as he has crafted it, doesn’t work both ways. In the end, the details Kat eventually learns about the people in her life only serve the third act “twist” that solves the mystery. Unfortunately that twist is less interesting than everything that preceded it, rendering the film a bit dramatically inert in the end.
Magnolia Home Entertainment offers a nice Blu-ray presentation of White Bird in a Blizzard. Sandra Valde-Hansen’s cinematography looks sharp and the DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is suitable (it’s a talky film, not extremely active in terms of surround activity).
The best special feature is a commentary track featuring director Gregg Araki and star Shailene Woodley. There are also video interview with each of them (Woodley’s is about eight minutes, Araki’s about ten). There are also a handful of deleted scenes, the most interesting being an alternate opening. The featurette “AXS TV: A Look at White Bird in a Blizzard” is a waste of disc space, a promotional piece running a couple of minutes.
There are a couple of good reasons to check out White Bird, especially if you’re already a Gregg Araki fan (it’s his first film in four years). Strong performances by Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, and especially Shailene Woodley make it worth a spin too, even if the ending feels like a letdown.