|WHITE OLEANDER (2002)|
Scott Allan Campbell
|Time: 109 mins.|
|"You look at me, and you don't like what you see. But this is the price, Mother - the price of belonging to you."|
A prime example of why some books should never be made into movies. The experience of watching this teenage tale of woe is like waking up from a vivid dream and trying to get it to make sense in the light of day. While Allison Lohman is luminous in her fragility as a young girl forced by her mother’s murderous ways to survive in the foster care system, the story gives her nothing to do but react to the world around her. This may be compelling if you’re party to her thoughts and feelings, as you would be reading the novel. On the screen, it translates into an incoherent mess of plot and emotions that unfold at a painful, elusive crawl. Certainly you feel sorry for Lohman and the troubles she has finding someone to care for her besides her over-protective, insanely jealous mother, played with venom and contempt by Pfeiffer. Wright and Zellweger play opposite sides of the crazy coin, as two broken women who welcome Lohman into their homes for their own selfish reasons. Neither situation ends well for her or her new “moms”, leaving Lohman with the impression that she’s just as dangerous to love as her mother.
Breaking the chains of parental trauma and overcoming their legacy of pain in one’s life is a worthy topic; however, the methods used here to convey that message of personal triumph are too broad to be emotionally effective. The film skates from bad situation to bad situation implying that she’s getting stronger merely because she survives. While that may be true in real life, it doesn’t exactly create entertaining cinema when our heroine is a mere passenger in her own life. The film is clearly more concerned about being true to the facts of her situation as laid out in the novel than it is in capturing the spirit of her journey. Even the powerful combination of Pfeiffer, Wright and Zellweger fails to turn this effort into an experience worth your time. For her part, Lohman holds her own against these talented ladies, making an entrancing big screen debut that will definitely be a boon to her career. It’s better to hit a single in a losing A-list adaptation than a homerun in some B-movie, teen-angst fluff. Her future options should certainly be of better quality with this on her resume. That being said, unless you like high drama filled with low expectations, this is not a cinema experience most will enjoy.