White Oleander

If any film could be unfairly dismissed as a chick flick, this is it. It's not only based on the hugely popular Oprah's Book Club selection by Janet Fitch about a troubled mother-daughter relationship, it stars three name-brand actresses and one exceptional newcomer. But while the film may drop a few of the novel's more disturbing moments, it still travels...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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If any film could be unfairly dismissed as a chick flick, this is it. It's not only based on the hugely popular Oprah's Book Club selection by Janet Fitch about a troubled mother-daughter relationship, it stars three name-brand actresses and one exceptional newcomer. But while the film may drop a few of the novel's more disturbing moments, it still travels some emotionally rocky territory, and each of those actresses — particularly Alison Lohman, who carries most of the movie on her young shoulders — turns in a first-rate performance. Fifteen-year-old Astrid Magnussen (Lohman) is tossed into the California foster care system when her mother, the brilliant but emotionally disturbed artist Ingrid Magnussen (Michelle Pfeiffer), poisons her wayward boyfriend (Billy Connolly) with oleander blossoms. Astrid isn't exactly sure why her mother did it — an ill-blowing Santa Ana wind, perhaps — but, as fragmented flashbacks soon reveal, it wasn't the first time Ingrid has done something crazy; it's just the first time she managed to kill someone. Astrid is first placed with Starr Thomas (Robin Wright Penn), a recovering alcoholic and Born Again Christian who lives with her own kids in a mobile home in the California desert, then Claire Richards (Renee Zellweger), a lonely B-movie actress with marital troubles. Astrid forms an emotional attachment to each of her foster mothers, but both situations end badly and Astrid soon finds herself with Rena (Svetlana Efremova), a cynical Russian swap-meet vendor who puts Astrid to work, teaching her the value of the Yankee dollar over love. Throughout her ordeal, Astrid pays periodic visits to Ingrid, who tries to maintain her hold over her daughter by warning her away from the rest of the world — people can't be trusted, men are no good, you're better off alone — but Astrid begins to suspect that Ingrid's unique brand of parenting has more to do with her own narcissism than genuine love for her daughter. Unadventurously adapted from the book by Mary Agnes Donoghue (BEACHES) and directed with some flair by the British television director Peter Kosminsky, the film is really a showcase for some fierce acting by a talented cast that manages to overcome the built-in liabilities of the script. Where the novel allowed itself time to develop Ingrid's complex character before the murder, the film must rely on Pfeiffer's considerable resourcefulness as an actress to reveal Ingrid's tragic inability to separate her own needs from those of her young daughter.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: If any film could be unfairly dismissed as a chick flick, this is it. It's not only based on the hugely popular Oprah's Book Club selection by Janet Fitch about a troubled mother-daughter relationship, it stars three name-brand actresses and one exceptiona… (more)

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