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White Oleander

Starring: Alison Lohman, Michelle Pfieffer, Robin Wright Penn, Renee Zellwger, Svetlana Efremova, Billy Connelly, Patrick Fugit, Cole Hauser and Noah Wyle
Directed by: Peter Kominsky
Rated: PG 13

 

White Oleander is simply wonderful. The performances shine as a practically all girl cast delivers one helluva film. Based on the best-selling novel by Janet Fitch, this adaptation manages to capture the novel's heart warming deep truth's one girl must journey through on her way to herself.

White Oleander is an often sad, yet thoroughly mesmerizing, story about a girl faced with abrupt dramatic life altering events grows into a strong defiant woman before our eyes. We meet Ingrid (stunning Michelle Pfeiffer) and her daughter Astrid (extreme talent Alison Lohman) leading their happy little bohemian Californian lives. Ingrid is a bold brash artist that wants the world to know it can't push her around. Astrid is a quiet precocious girl that adores her mother. The two are very close though you immediately feel they are more like sisters than mother and daughter. Ingrid's not the PTA SUV driving type.

No, no she isn't. When Ingrid, already a tad bipolar, goes criminally insane and kills her cheating boyfriend (Billy Connelly) things go deeper into the catacombs within an already dysfunctional family unit. Ingrid is promptly sentenced and carted off to jail. Astrid is promptly carted off to her first, in a series, of foster homes.

Astrid's life will start to form differently now; her experiences shaping her indelibly. Each new home a new layer to the budding Astrid. Ingrid remains the same. She is a control queen snuggled into her cell still spouting revelations and skewed philosophy at the poor kid.

Astrid's first foster mother, Starr (Robin Wright Penn), is an ex showgirl residing in a double-wide praising the name of the lord while slurping down a few brewskis and a spewing whole lot of anti-Christian like lingo. Astrid starts to feel at home; Starr's odd, quirky and fun. But alas as fate, and plot, would have it sin is again about to enter the scene and change Astrid's semi-peaceful environment. Starr is suspecting Astrid has gone and got smitten with Starr's beau Ray (studmuffin banquet Cole Hauser). Oops, her intuition is right - and naturally Ray can't keep his Jolly Roger from rising! All hell in a hand basket breaks lose. Starr goes berserk and attempts to de-life young Astrid.

So it's off to another home-away-from-home for the youngin'. It's not so bad though. Astrid's been sent to live on the other side of the tracks, in Malibu. She's planted into a gorgeous home, with vista views, a pool and the lay out comes complete with a starlet foster mom named Claire (uber cutey Renee Zellweger). Claire is super sweet and becomes immediately close to Astrid. The two are inseparable. Which is a good thing because Claire doesn't like to be alone…

However, it is not a good thing for Ingrid. Remember her? She's the killer mom purring away in the slammer. Each time Astrid visits her, she Ingrid, "mommie dearest," has a bit more to say about things…we are starting to learn that beneath Ingrid's porcelain skin lies a reptile with deep scars that bubble and ooze hatred and contempt for everything; even her own daughter. She spews venom like a king cobra at the poor kid. Sure she's beautiful, but she's poisonous - like the white Oleander.

So when Astrid shows up, now in residence with Claire, all cleaned up,. a young lady with stylish clothes and a shining aura, Ingrid is unable to keep her onionskin shield from revealing the hideous behemoth of jealousy she really is. She connives to break up Claire and Astrid….

With no place else to go Astrid ends up at a hall for unwanted children. She's immediately beaten up for being so beautiful and decides to delete her glamorous edge. Astrid is getting tough! She's had enough with being optimistic and perky! So she chops off her hair, starts looking a tad butch and radiates thunder and gloom. We start to squirm in out seats over her continuing misfortunes and the truth that plays before us.

In this pit of hell she's been cast, she manages to finally find a true friend. His name is Patrick (adorable Paul - a fish by any other name - Trout). Paul sees past the gloom and doom that permeates Astrid's atmosphere and falls in love. Awe…

Astrid is again carted off to a home. This time it's with a savvy crude businesswoman, Russian Rena Grushenka (Russian Svetlana Efremova) who has a stable of girls working for her. Not like that! As flea market entrepreneurs. Astrid digs the freedom the ruskie's house holds. It's an artistic wild environment - just what the kid needed Rena teaches her how to make money and let go of sentimental trinkets. Astrid is ready to let go. Now if only her mom can do the same…

Wow. Sounds heavy huh? It is. But, it is by far one of the finest films of the year. Michelle Pfeiffer tricks you with her performance. You want to like her and then slap, you realize this Ingrid is just not redeemable.

The wonderful Alison Lohman deserves an academy award for her breath taking performance. Unbelievable. She's a young woman with age-old talent just pouring from her soul. I can't wait to see what she brings on next!

Robin Wright Penn plays Starr with a comical edge. She's almost a character. But in the hands of this seasoned pro Starr pops off the screen and into your heart. Another excellent film by Sean's squeeze.

Renee Zellweger is wonderful. She plays these "oh gosh" girls with ease. If she weren't so cunning and intelligent in real life you'd suspect she wasn't even acting! I wasn't always a huge fan. Of course when you're given crap like The (feared and dreaded) Bachelor to go by who could blame me? Now I love seeing her name on the marquee - it means a jolly good time awaits!

See this remarkable women driven film. The whole cast is fantastic. Pfeiffer and Lohman egnite the screen. And make no mistake this is a women's film. The men, while good, are refreshingly disposable fill - you know like the women's roles usually are. Bravo!

Snack recommendation: A large tub off popcorn - you're going to want to stay put for this one!


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