White Oleander (2002)
Main cast: Alison Lohman (Astrid Magnussen), Michelle Pfeiffer (Ingrid Magnussen), Renée Zellweger (Claire Richards), Patrick Fugit (Paul Trout), Robin Penn Wright (Starr Thomas), Cole Hauser (Ray), and Noah Wyle (Mark)
Director: Peter Kosminsky
In trying to get a PG-13 rating, White Oleander sheds any gritty realism in Janet Fitch's book (from which the script is adapted from) for some maudlin TV-movie sentimentalism. Is Michelle Pfeiffer trying to cement her reputation as the new Hallmark diva? Isn't I Am Sam atrocious enough?
This movie revolves around Astrid Magnussen's life from the age to twelve to her late teens when she finally breaks free from her mother's influence to live her own life. Astrid's mother in sentenced to lifetime imprisonment for fatally poisoning her boyfriend. Astrid wanders from home to home, experiencing sexual awakening when she sleeps with Ray, the boyfriend of her first foster mother when she was fourteen, becoming the object of a fellow orphan Paul Trout's infatuation, and befriending a later foster mother Claire as Claire suffers from paranoia and depression. Throughout these, she keeps in close contact with her mother, realizing only nearly too late that Ingrid's selfishness is poisoning Astrid's ability to live a normal life.
Throughout it all, the movie strips away all elements of objectionable material that make the book work. This movie changes Ray from a nearly-fifty year old pedophile into a vaguely older gorgeous hunk and hints so ineptly at reason as well as the nature of the affair that this movie leaves many people in the audience confused as what went on between those two. Ingrid's motivations for killing her boyfriend is barely touched on. The entire point of the book, about Astrid's acceptance of her mother's guilt and nature even as she rejects what her mother is doing to her, is glossed over for some safe and sentimental closure.
In short, this is a movie that takes on a difficult subject and dumbs it down until there is nothing like in the movie but rancid cheese moments. The acting from the female characters is very good but they are just wasting their time as the script is dancing around the very issues that would have made this movie a powerful drama. I'd recommend that people wanting a better version of this story to read the book instead. From the book, the reader will understand at once why White Oleander is an apt title for the story. The movie, in comparison, is a badly-made TV movie done by amateurs.
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