Astrid Magnussen is a 15 year old girl, living in California. Her mother, Ingrid, is a beautiful, free-spirited poet. Their life, though unusual, is satisfying until one day, a man named Barry Kolker (that her mother refers to at first as "The goat man") comes into their lives, and Ingrid falls madly in love with him, only to have her heart broken, and her life ruined. For revenge, Ingrid murders Barry with the deadly poison of her favourite flower: The White Oleander. She is sent to prison for life, and Astrid has to go through foster home after foster home. Throughout nearly a decade she experiences forbidden love, religion, near-death experiences, drugs, starvation, and how it feels to be loved. But throughout these years, she keeps in touch with her mother via letters to prison. And while Ingrid's gift is to give Astrid the power to survive, Astrid's gift is to teach her Mother about love. Written by
The film in which Claire shows Astrid is 'The Return of the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' which Renee Zellweger actually starred in. See more »
When Astrid, Starr, and Carolee are driving to go get clothes, Starr refers to the reverend of their church as "Reverend Thomas." However, in every other scene before and after this, the reverend is referred to as "Reverend Daniels." Perhaps his name is Thomas Daniels. See more »
My mother was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was also the most dangerous.
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A parade of great scenes, great acting, and teenage angst
White Oleander (2002)
The harrowing journey of a teenage girl through a series of foster parent and foster home situations because her mother went to jail for murder. On the surface this is about survival in a hostile world, and one layer down it's about getting to know her mother and what a mother's love is all about. But even deeper we get to know what this adolescent girl is all about, with growing complexity, and growing interest and concern.
There are two keys here, the layered and ever changing story, based on the bestseller by the same name, and the lead actress, Alison Lohman. Both Lohman and director Peter Kosminsky come out of television work, and for Lohman, this is her breakout film into Hollywood (she was in a Ridley Scott movie after this, and then played the young Jessica Lange character in the fabulous "Big Fish" a couple years later). Lohman makes her character really sympathetic but in a hardened way, never cloying, and never clichéd.
But she has fabulous support along the way. Two of her foster mothers are given juicy roles that are played with conviction--Robin Wright Penn as a born again floozy, Renee Zelwegger as a needy but caring actress out of work--and her biological mother is played with icy slipperiness by Michelle Pfeiffer. That's a weirdly amazing cast. And well constructed, very serious. In all, the editing is usually pretty fast, the filming is visually smart without being overly seductive, and the writing (and screen writing) is sharp as an Xacto knife.
All the while, watching and being impressed, you will also realize it's "just a movie." You can feel the presence of the film world, a glitzing up of characters, an unavoidable pandering to clichés to make it look and feel pretty. I don't mean that a hardhitting drama about the tragedy of a young girl's life has to be gritty and truthful and meaningful--but that was a possibility. And you can see how this film might have been something intensely moving without resorting to filmmaking tearjerker tricks (like the repeated glances through the windows near the end) or a bizarre deal-making finale.
Reservations aside, I found myself more absorbed with each scene. A nice surprise.
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