Pitch per­fect and finely crafted

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

WHITE BIRD IN A BL­IZ­ZARD Di­rected by Gregg Araki. Star­ring Shai­lene Wood­ley, Eva Green, Christo­pher Meloni, Shiloh Fer­nan­dez, Gabourey Sidibe, Thomas Jane, An­gela Bas­sett. Cert 16, se­lect re­lease, 91mins Is cinema bro­ken? How is that a film by a direc­tor as sig­nif­i­cant as Gregg Araki ends up with such a tiny re­lease? And an ex­cel­lent film, at that?

Adapted from Laura Ka­sis­chke’s de­cep­tively sunny Cal­i­for­nia noir of the same name, White Bird in a Bl­iz­zard sees Shai­lene Wood­ley pol­ish and per­fect the bright yet naïve tone she stuck in The Spec­tac­u­lar Now and The Fault in Our Stars. Here she plays Kat, whose frag­mented flash­backs take us through the late-1980s as her highly strung, Oedi­pally chal­lenged mother (Eva Green) goes miss­ing.

Kat is too self-ab­sorbed and caught up in sex­ual awak­en­ing to no­tice the blind­ingly ob­vi­ous mur­der mys­tery on her own doorstep. In­stead, she pur­sues a stoner ex-boyfriend be­fore mov­ing on to the cop (Thomas Jane) in­ves­ti­gat­ing her mum’s dis­ap­pear­ance, much to the de­light of her gos­sipy, campy best friends ( Ugly Betty’s Mark In­del­i­cato and Gabourey Sidibe from Pre­cious).

True Queer Cinema, the kind made by Greg Araki or Bruce la

Snow blind: a mur­der mys­tery on her doorstep

Bruce, isn’t just about gay themes, it’s about queer­ing the no­tion of be­ing queer. In this spirit, White Bird is a strange, omni-sex­ual beast that seems to rub un­con­trol­lably against ev­ery­thing. Its sex scenes are few, yet po­tent – its vir­gin­ity loss scene is one of the best of its kind – yet sex is never off its mind.

Death, too, lurks in the mar­gins, not just be­cause Kat is plagued by dreams of a ghostly ver­sion of her mother, but be­cause she speaks and thinks with the same emo­tion­ally dead­ened tone that af­flicted the more psy­chotic cre­ations found in Araki’s early Teenage Apoca­lypse Tril­ogy, a se­quence com­pris­ing To­tally F**ked Up, The Doom Gen­er­a­tion and Nowhere.

Shot over 19 days with a wink to­ward Dou­glas Sirk, ev­ery el­e­ment, from San­dra Valde-Hansen’s cin­e­matog­ra­phy to the am­bi­ent post-Cocteau noises of Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie, is pitch per­fect. Ev­ery per­for­mance – even the lit­tle cameos from Frozen River’s Dale Dickey and Twin Peaks’s Sh­eryl Lee – is finely crafted.

The direc­tor deftly plays with the chronol­ogy but never al­lows the ma­te­rial to be­come in­ac­ces­si­ble. Just when we think we’re two steps ahead of the plot, Araki blind­sides the lot of us. Well played, sir.

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