White Oleander (2002) starring Alison Lohman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robin Wright Penn, Renee Zellweger, Patrick Fugit directed by Peter Kosminsky Movie Review

White Oleander (2002)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Alison Lohman in White Oleander (2002)

Another Coming of Age Story

When artist Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) decides to take revenge on her lover she doesn't hold back, using the poison of the White Oleander flower to kill him. It results in a 30 year sentence for Ingrid and for her teenage daughter Astrid (Alison Lohman) a future in foster care. The first foster home belongs to the religious but flirtatious Starr (Robin Wright Penn) but an encounter with a bullet sees Astrid move on to McKinney Hall where an artist called Paul (Patrick Fugit) takes a shine to her. Next stop is with a b-movie actress called Claire (Renee Zellweger) whilst all the time Astrid keeps in touch with her mum Ingrid, telling her about her experiences and having to put up with her mum's bile towards everyone else.

I read a handful of reviews before watching "White Oleander" and each one couldn't praise this movie highly enough so I started watching and about half an hour in I was debating whether I had read them right and looked back and yes they praised this movie which I was struggling with. But each of those reviews mentioned not only how good the book from which it is adapted is but also how good an adaptation it is. So I delved a bit deeper and the negative reviews I came across were from those who like me had never read the book and struggled with the movie, struggled to fill in the gaps and pick up any emotion in the story.

Michelle Pfeiffer in White Oleander (2002)

Now I wouldn't say that I hated "White Oleander" from what I could make out I could see how some people might enjoy it as on one hand we have a coming of age tale. We watch as Astrid through the experiences she has in the different foster homes does a lot of growing up and is able to see life from a variety of perspectives. But that ties in with the other hand which is her venomous mother who is full of bile towards others and almost seems to enjoy being full of spite. We see how whilst Ingrid is a self centred piece of work she also gets to experience things through what Astrid tells her. And in truth it is an interesting character based movie with Astrid becoming her own woman despite being the focus of so many opinions but narratively it didn't grip me, didn't make me feel any emotion.

Part of the trouble is that the characters in "White Oleander" all border on extremes, from extremely South to the extreme cattiness of Ingrid. In fairness Michelle Pfeiffer's performance is pretty special and she does a good job of making you hate her due to her sheer spitefulness towards everyone including Astrid but it seems to be too spiteful especially considering the naively nice way which Alison Lohman plays Astrid

What this all boils down to is that "White Oleander" probably is an enjoyable movie for those who read the book and liked it, being able to fill in some of the gaps in the narrative. But for those who haven't read the book it only ends up a so-so coming of age story.