Based on the novel of the same name that was championed by Oprah's book club, White Oleander exemplifies the dangerous power of love and passion.
Astrid Magnussen (Alison Lohman) lives in the shadow of her mother, Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer). Ironically, the only light Ingrid truly holds is for Astrid; she showers Astrid with love, knowledge, and life lessons of individuality and self-reliance. Ingrid wants Astrid to be the strongest individual she can be, though it comes at the cost of Astrid herself. It's a story of mother and daughter, teacher and apprentice.
When a man enters their circle, however, things change-- and for the worse. Ingrid is in jail for murder and Astrid is left to experience the world in the care of a veritable parade of foster parents.
We meet Starr, a bible-thumping ex-stripper (Robin Wright Penn) who's hyper-protective of her live-in lover. There's also an out-of-work actress (Renee Zellweger), who wavers between foster parent and best buddy. Of course, none of this sits well with Ingrid, who peppers the film with short, sharp moments of subtle bitterness and a cold cynicism that bubbles just under her cool surface.
The film serves well the push-pull relationship of mother and child, teacher and student, friend and enemy. And thanks to the solid performances, especially that of newcomer Alison Lohman, and an eerie turn by Michelle Pfeiffer who can draw you closer, yet make you pay for it every time. Under the solid direction of Peter Kosminsky, White Oleander never feels melodramatic or haphazardly culled from a book.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
3 1/2 out of 5 White Oleander is a film that can be enjoyed in the theater or on video, but it is worth a look.
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