Monday, August 4, 2014
Retro Review: White Oleander (2002)
We all know how important it is to have a parent when we are much younger. We never just need them for financial support or to give us a roof over our heads, but emotionally as well. However, White Oleander gives us a glimpse at what might just happen when a young girl or boy can suddenly have that kind of support and nourishing taken away from them.
White Oleander follows the story of a girl named Astrid (Alison Lohman) whose mother Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) has been sent to prison for murdering her boyfriend. As a result, Astrid is sent to live in different foster homes, including the home of religious fanatic Starr (Robin Wright) and actress Claire (Renee Zellweger). As she lives in the different homes, she periodically visits her mother in different stages in her life.
First off, I thought the acting was top-notch. Alison Lohman is absolutely brilliant as the lead character Astrid and is quite transcendent as she goes through different phases when living with the different foster parents. Robin Wright doesn't have a whole lot of screentime, but she really makes the most of it as the troubled Starr, who is a struggling addict and homewrecker who tries to find Jesus. Renee Zellweger is also quite brilliant as Claire, Astrid's foster mother that seems very sunny, yet her smile is just a mask for her insecurities. But the real scene-stealer in my opinion is without a doubt Michelle Pfeiffer. She really excels as the mother who is like a free-spirited flower that is still poisonous like an oleander and poisons anyone that crosses her path. She portrays Ingrid's manipulation and envy yet her comfort and vulnerability with such masterful subtlety. It is like she is the film's villain, yet not.
Also, just like how Kramer vs. Kramer realistically portrays the struggles of a divorced family, White Oleander daringly shows the hardships of living without a parent. I may not have lived with a parent that was ever arrested or just disappeared, but I would imagine that if I did, I would probably undergo a similar turmoil that Astrid did. But I feel that is what this story is about; the power of a parent-child relationship. It even shows that when a parent is separated from his or her child, even the parent might undergo some feelings of turmoil since Ingrid feels quite a bit of pain when locked away from her own daughter. The arc that Astrid herself goes through is quite painful, but it is quite honest and I like how the film isn't totally sugarcoated. Another bonus this film has is including the song "Safe and Sound" by Sheryl Crow. Not only is that a brilliant song, but it really fits the film's story.
Overall, White Oleander is a brutally realistic piece about the ugliness of a child being alone that features beautiful performances by its lead female cast. Something tells me that some could look at this as a film with Lifetime TV-type quality, but I feel that this is beyond that. This one I would highly recommend if you are a fan of any of the lead actresses. Plus, whether you have been in the type of situation the main character is in or not, you should still give it a watch because even if you have never been separated from a parent or loved one, you can still identify with her loneliness.