Another vaguely noir-ish film set in California hits the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque this weekend, and this one's as much a celebration of the late '80s as Inherent Vice is of the early '70s. White Bird in a Blizzard, starring Shailene Woodley and directed by Gregg Araki (the guy who humanized a horrific act of sexual abuse in 2005's Mysterious Skin) plays at 6:35 p.m. on Thursday and 8:55 p.m. on Saturday.
Woodley plays Kat, a well-adjusted, sexually adventurous teen whose mother (Eva Green) goes mysteriously missing within the movie's opening five minutes. It's then much less a procedural or whodunnit — it's the anti-Gone Girl — and more a slow, hopscotching interrogation of Kat's rocky relationship with her mom.
Green and Woodley, though, to say nothing of Kat's best friends, played by Precious's Gabourey Sidibe and the flamboyantly coiffed Mark Indelicato, seem at odds on screen, battling not as characters but as tonal attaches. They just flat-out don't mesh.
Kat is all John Hughes, if a tad on the sultrier side. She wears Depeche Mode T-shirts and constantly wants to have sex with her loser boyfriend — and if not with him, then with the hunky detective (Thomas Jane) she has no trouble at all seducing. She twirls her telephone cord and gossips in the basement or at the mall with her spunky weirdo pals.
Meanwhile, Green, as Kat's mom Eve, is a bizarre and almost paranormal presence in flashbacks. She's made up in the lurid colors of mid-20th-century suburban housewife melodrama. She affects something like an accent. She has turned to exotic, Victorian lingerie and strong drink to fend off the nightmare her life has become: her milquetoast husband (Law & Order SVU's Christopher Meloni) and an utter lack of sexual fulfillment.
Storywise, Eve's disappearance, and the ultimate resolution, fail to register as important moments in Kat's life — she honestly doesn't seem to care that much. And though Woodley delivers a convincing performance, she's strapped with lesser actors and a story that could've used more time on the drawing board. Woodley's turns as troubled teens in The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars are still high-water marks, but she shouldn't be blamed for taking this role, with the queer-cinema champion Araki, a guy who's bravely exploring taboo territory, even if the result is often tentative and bumpy.