Director Gregg Araki was once the gay prince of American independent cinema Greg Araki, with several transgressive comedies that push black humour into the red, white, and blue, oh and shocking pink, to boot. A sense of playful nihilism permeates all his low-budget, garish displays of camp style and narcissistic reflection. He first garnered attention in 1992 with The Living End, a savage satire on social-politics and sexual recklessness, and continued his colourful assault on indie cinema through the rest of the 90s with Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation, Nowhere, and Splendor. In 2004 his dark and deeply affecting Mysterious Skin gave him dramatic kudos.
Ten years later his latest piece is based on a novel of the same name, White Bird in a Blizzard (a literary title if ever I heard one!), is set in 1988, and stars Shailene Woodley as Kat, a concerned 17-year-old, struggling with a troubled mother (Eva Green) and vacant father (Christopher Meloni). Before you can say “glass candle grenades” (Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie provides an original score) her mommy has vacated and her father is now deeply troubled. Kat’s boyfriend, Phil (Shiloh Fernandez), is elusive, and her two BFFs seem to know stuff. Kat drowns out the grief of her mother’s abandonment by becoming lovers with the forty-something detective (Thomas Jane) assigned to her mother’s disappearance. There’ll be tears before bedtime, but not before a clutch of great 80s new romantic numbers and plenty of “fucks”.
What makes this Gregg Araki movie – his second drama – punch well above its weight is the fantastic central performance from Woodley. She is definitely one of the better actors of her generation. I’ve not seen her in much, but I can tell from her acting style and the nuances of her performance that she will be one to watch over the next decade. Woodley and J-Law, they have the x-factor. But Araki throws more weight in front of the camera with Green, Meloni, and Jane. Throw in a brief appearance from Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks) and Angela Bassett as a therapist, and you have a solid cast delivering the goods.
Araki captures his portrayal of adolescent sexuality and teenage communication with a refreshing honesty and frankness. From years of dealing with youthful promiscuity and self-destruction Araki brings a certain je ne sai quoi to this movie’s more serious elements, and yes, this movie does tackle a genuine darkness. But he does so with a delicacy that belies the full-frontal approach of his early features. The result is a tender tale with jagged edges. It’s also spiked with melancholy, infused with a striking look, and filled with a profound longing. Despite the denouement teetering dangerously close to absurdity, Araki manages to pull the narrative back and has Kat’s grasp, or lack thereof, on her mother, the white bird in the blizzard, as the emotional and haunting end game the movie demands.
— White Bird in a Blizzard film review written by Bryn Tilly of cultprojections.com