- 2002 (2003) - Warner Brothers/Pandora (Warner)
by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
109 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced,
Snapper case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered disc (layer
switch at ??), audio commentary (with director Peter Kosminsky,
producer John Wells, and novelist Janet Fitch), 6 deleted scenes,
The Making of White Oleander
featurette (12 mins), The Journey of
White Oleander featurette (13 mins), theatrical trailer,
filmographies, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters),
languages: English & French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French
and Spanish, Closed Captioned
mother was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was also
the most dangerous."
Some movie critics coined 2002 "The Year of Women," a
year where there were strong roles for women over a certain age
(35). Films such as Far from Heaven,
Personal Velocity, and
Lovely & Amazing are
included among female-centric films that offered fully-rounded,
three-dimensional parts for women. But one of those films seemed to
fall through the cracks in terms of critical and audience support:
White Oleander stars virtual
newcomer Alison Lohman as Astrid Magnussen, a teenage girl living
with her artistic single mother Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) in Los
Angeles. Ingrid is an amazing talent, but is eccentric, cold... in
other words, definitely not motherly material. A sudden act rips
mother away from daughter and throws them both into public systems
where survival is not easy. For mother Ingrid, it's a state
penitentiary. For Astrid, it's foster care.
Astrid finds a home with a foster mother in the Santa Clarita
Valley. This foster mother, Starr (Robin Wright Penn), is trailer
trash who preaches the bible to her four foster wards despite
sleeping with the preacher behind the back of a boyfriend ten years
her junior (Cole Hauser). The frightened Astrid finds some comfort
in this new, simple life, and quickly befriends Starr's boyfriend.
But Ingrid has been writing to Starr, and those writings spur
Starr's jealousy towards Astrid.
After another sudden turn of events, Astrid is thrown into a
state-run orphanage/boarding school where she befriends another
teenager (Patrick Fugit) who has taken an interest in her and her
art. One day, Astrid is surprisingly placed into the custody of
Claire (Renee Zellweger) a struggling actress who finally shows her
what love truly is. Can the cold, deceiving Ingrid still keep a hold
on her daughter's life from prison and destroy the only true
happiness that Astrid has known in the process?
White Oleander is definitely
not light material, but wisely, director Peter Kosminsky and
screenwriter Mary Agnes Donoghue don't play up the melodramatic
elements. Instead, the film slowly reveals each turn, making
Astrid's extraordinary journey into something heart wrenching and
believable. Having read the original novel, I can say that
Donoghue's adaptation cuts some extraneous elements and modifies
characters and situations to make the film more palatable to a
larger audience, but it certainly doesn't water down the original
novel. This isn't your standard Lifetime movie of the week fare, and
producers Hunt Lowry and John Wells (of E.R.
and The West Wing fame)
elevate the material into a hypnotizing experience.
Admittedly, Kosminsky's use of hand-held camera is a little
distracting. It's not as over-used as the technique was in, say,
I Am Sam, but it doesn't go
without notice. Thankfully, Thomas Newman's score and the amazing
performances by the four featured actress are ultimately engrossing
enough to forget any stylistic detractors during viewing.
Alison Lohman is stunning as Astrid, a hard part for anyone to
play, as the character goes through so many transformations and must
age from twelve to nineteen-years during the course of the film. The
twenty-three year old covers these changes flawlessly. Michelle
Pfeiffer was definitely worthy of a Best Supporting Actress Oscar
nomination, for her best performance since The
Fabulous Baker Boys. Each meeting that Astrid and Ingrid
have during the course of the film are absolute highlights.
Chameleon Robin Wright Penn and star Renee Zellweger, in what could
be her last supporting performance for a while, offer unique
portraits of women that could have been easily been caricatures in
the hands of other actresses.
Warner Home Video has released this drama in the same good-quality
fashion as they have their other day-and-date releases. The
anamorphic widescreen video quality is spot on. The colors look a
little washed out, and grayed, but this was a stylistic choice
intended by the director. So while it doesn't make for a good demo
disc, it is accurately presented. The blacks are solid, and shadow
detailing remains impressive. The video does contain a bit too much
edge enhancement, but nothing too distracting. Note that there is
also a separate full-screen edition available. Be sure to check the
packaging and grab the right one.
The provided Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is quite vibrant for a
quiet drama, and surrounds are in constant use for the score and for
ambiance. The prison scenes make good use of the surrounds to hear
other prisoners talking in the background, while in outdoor scenes
you can hear the Santa Ana winds blowing behind you. It's nothing
distracting, just a nice touch. Dialogue and the various other
elements come across with great clarity, with good dynamic range.
Director Peter Kosminsky, producer John Wells, and the book's
author, Janet Fitch, provide the scene-specific audio commentary.
Kosminsky dominates the track, both hosting the discussion and
providing many insights of his own. Fitch talks about how different
the book is from the film, and the time that she spent with the
screenwriter adapting her work, bringing it an added clarity. Wells
discusses what attracted him to the book and various casting and
Electronic Press Kit material makes up the two included featurettes
The Making of White Oleander
and The Journey of White Oleander.
Making is your more general
interviews/plot synopsis/film pitch-type of featurette, while
Journey talks more about the
novel and the casting process. There is some valuable
behind-the-scenes information here, but the production of the clips
seems slight and generic. Also included are about six short deleted
scenes that add some character depth but weren't integral. The last
briefly adds to Noah Wyle's thankless role. The commentary mentioned
a twenty-minute prologue to the film, which is where Connelly's work
was featured. It's too bad that the prologue wasn't included. The
theatrical trailer and cast and crew filmographies are also
Don't let the low box office and bland cover art deceive you.
White Oleander is sharply
written; an effective study of how mothers affect their daughters
and how the foster care system has collapsed. With a beautiful
performance by Alison Lohman, and a nicely produced disc by Warner
Brothers, White Oleander is