Another London Film Festival movie, another final-reel twist – and it has begun to feel like this sort of twist, which serves to either deconstruct or undermine positivist readings, has become a staple of modern cinema.
Gregg Araki’s 11th film is no Gone Girl, though. The twist in White Bird in a Blizzard, while genuinely surprising, is a little unnecessary, and the audience is unprepared for it. This state of un-preparation is a result of directorial laziness, not of legerdemain. The ‘whodunit’ elements of the film don’t really work.
But the film is mainly concerned with being a coming-of-age drama. Critics often complain when a film ‘tries to be too many things’; this doesn’t really feel like a reasonable criticism. It merely means that some films are difficult to pigeonhole. This film is not really like that. It’s fairly straightforward, if purportedly subversive, as if Don’t Look Now had been written by Sigmund Freud and directed by Douglas Sirk – admittedly a simplistic comparison, but no less simplistic than the film deserves.
Why isn’t the film particularly memorable? Probably because none of the characters are very likeable. With the exception of the dim-witted Phil, sharply described as “literally the boy-next-door”, all of the dramatis personae leave a bitter taste in the mouth: protagonist Kat Connors is insolent, ungrateful, bitchy and dishonest, and her friends are grating if well-meaning dullards. Meanwhile, Christopher Meloni does a laudable William H. Macy impersonation as the soi-disant patriarch. Eva Green has won various plaudits as the insufferable missing mother, and her hammy performance is not only enjoyable to watch, but adds depth to the character. This is a woman who pretends she’s living in a Tennessee Williams play to distract herself from the unbearable banality of her everyday life, and so Green’s performance is a performance of a performance. As such, she enlivens the scenes she inhabits.
Unfortunately, the solid performances and attractive cinematography don’t make up for the mediocre story-writing, and we’re left wondering why we should care.