|There exists a fine line in cinema between sappy melodrama and impressive drama and White Oleander walks a thin tightrope between the two. At the core of the success for this film are the performances of the women on the movie poster. Each one has a very tortured life to portray and each makes sure that the audience believes absolutely in her plight. None of the actresses in White Oleander play stock characters who exist simply to augment the main story. The story is simply dependant on every one. Each woman is uniquely disturbed in her own way.|
And what grabs the viewer about this story is the way these characters move in and out of one another's lives. It is often said that good film roles do not appear in Hollywood frequently enough to make use of all the talent present in the movie industry. There are just not enough "good roles" for good actresses. Emotionally speaking, the characters in this film required a lot of work on the actresses' parts, so seeing so many good performances in a single film leaves one wondering about the reason for the bottleneck. Perhaps it is just the way the plot is fashioned that allows so much talent to appear on screen.
And all the actors, male and female included, should be congratulated on making what could be considered an average script something much more interesting to listen to. In point of fact, some of the sequences where characters do not speak are just as effective, if not more so, than when dialogue is spoken. The most obvious example of this technique belongs most to Michelle Pfeiffer, whose performance is nothing less than stunning. She's made more than one average film, and her performances have varied as well, but this film is a much stronger effort.
Although the story is told from the point of view of the desperate character played by semi-newcomer, Alison Lohman's, it is Pfeiffer who the audience will want to see on the screen. Magnetic would be a good description for the way she commands the entire screen when she's on it. She doesn't even have to speak and the audience will be completely engrossed in whatever she says, or doesn't say. The performances by Robin Wright Penn and Renee Zellweger are a visual treat as well. And as the focus for the story, Lohman's "Astrid" is an affecting character as well. It might be considered problem-overload when the difficulties these characters face are brought into the film, but strangely, the film is merely packed, rather than overflowing, with powerful drama.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone insultingly called the film an "estrogen overload," which illustrates that this film will most definitely appeal to women more than their dates. Perhaps testosterone overload is perfectly acceptable, but Travers seems to be frightened by strong women. And why wouldn't a film like this skew female? It was probably intended for a female audience in any case, so blaming a male for not enjoying the experience is probably a waste of time. While the fact that the book this film was based on was once part of Oprah's book club might scare some viewers, the film really deserves no such label.
Aside from an average screenplay, the only other main element of the movie which was not executed as well as it could have been was the cinematography. There was an unforgivable amount of hand-held shots in the film and for any person with a weak constitution, viewing this film could become a less than stellar experience. It is unknown whether the cinematographer used hand-held shots in the film because of a monetary or a creative choice, but one thing is certain: the camera was shaking too often. Instead of making an impact during especially emotional scenes, the shakiness only got annoying after a while.
People interested in a visual feast might be disappointed in White Oleander's offerings, but viewers who want to see engaging characters portrayed by more than capable actresses will enjoy the film. While it was bankrolled by Hollywood, the film retains some independent feelings (probably from its small budget), and benefits from actresses looking to perform rather than preen. Although the poster is a showing of four beautiful women, the film travels much deeper than hair color and rolls along at a good clip.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.