Deadpan humour spices up White Bird In A Blizzard

Kat (Shailene Woodley) copes with her mother’s disappearance while also dealing with a boyfriend, Phil (Shiloh Fernandez), who is growing increasingly distant. -- PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION
Kat (Shailene Woodley) copes with her mother’s disappearance while also dealing with a boyfriend, Phil (Shiloh Fernandez), who is growing increasingly distant. -- PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Deadpan humour spices up this quirky film about a girl's perception of her mother's disappearance

Review Drama

WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD (M18)

88 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***1/2

The story: When Kat (Shailene Woodley) was 17, her mother Eve (Eva Green) disappeared one day. It was no secret that Eve was disdainful of her husband Brock (Christopher Meloni), but did she just up and leave? In addition to coping with the loss, Kat is also dealing with her burgeoning sexuality and a suddenly disinterested boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez). Based on the novel of the same name by Laura Kasischke.

Indie film-maker Gregg Araki is closely associated with the movement dubbed as New Queer Cinema.

Actually, his characters run the gamut of sexual orientation in edgy works such as The Living End (1992), Totally F***ed Up (1993) and The Doom Generation (1995), and often, a sense of dread and nihilism pervades them.

A domestic drama, instead of being an unlikely fit for him as it might seem, turns out to be a good match for his off-kilter sensibility.

Instead of being a straightforward crime drama about the vanishing, the focus here is very much on Kat and her perception of the world around her.

The urgency of the question of what happened to Eve is blunted by the fact that it does not seem surprising for her to leave. In flashbacks, we see her as an increasingly unhappy wife who cannot even bother to hide her contempt for her husband.

There is an iciness to Green (Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, 2014) that makes her perfect for the role of distant wife and mother. It is as though she is a parody of a housewife, a fate that she is condemned to but has absolutely no interest in.

Then there is her erratic behaviour leading up to her disappearance.

She seems to be jealous as Kat blossoms into womanhood and a competitive dynamic creeps into the mother- daughter relationship. Eve wears barely there negligee and body-hugging outfits and all but flirts with Kat's boyfriend Phil.

But is Kat a trustworthy narrator? How much of what she remembers is rationalisation of, or a defence mechanism against, her mother's abrupt disappearance?

Nevertheless, Kat's struggles with her hormones and growing up in a constricting small town are compelling.

Even as she deals with an on-off boyfriend, she finds herself drawn to the manly detective (Thomas Jane) assigned to the case.

Kudos to Woodley - star of a major film franchise, the young-adult dystopian The Divergent Series - for taking on more unusual projects.

The deadpan dialogue brings a welcome touch of humour (Kat intones: "My virginity disappeared, just like my mother") and the dead-on music references including Depeche Mode and Joy Division are exactly what a moody teenager might be listening to in the late 1980s.

While White Bird primarily works as a character study, it also offers closure for its central mystery. Think of it as a movie that kills two birds with one stone.

bchan@sph.com.sg