|L-R: Alison Lohman & Michelle Pfeiffer in White Oleander|
White Oleander began as a late-night affair on a thursday night. I had DVR'd the 2002 movie from earlier that evening and the movie started with a bang, but I was tired. I had work the next day. The following night at like 8 pm I watched it and was lilted into this quick-moving repetition of situations that seduced me with its closeups of Michelle Pfeiffer's contained beauty and Alison Lohman's sad brown eyes.
The first thing that struck me was how I had never seen Pfeiffer look more beautiful, as monstrous as her character Ingrid was. Her long blond hair was straight and uncomplicated and her eyes like steely pools of blue. I can see why Lohman's character Astrid regarded her as some kind of mythical creature, maybe even a goddess. Beautiful. Dangerous. Blond hair is a major part of White Oleander, even a character in itself. Some might get the impression that the film is saying "beautiful white blond women have it rough too," but that's surface-deep. When Lohman gets beat up by some tough Latinas at a youth facility, she cuts her long blond locks short and assumes a more butch persona. It transcends race and brings up the fact that race doesn't matter when a person is without a family and a home. The Latinas and Lohman are both victims of circumstance.
The film is based on a book of the same name and it's a testament to the direction and the actors' performances that the film is the visual equivalent to a page-turner. The scenes moved in a perfect rhythm: mother and daughter get along until a man screws it up. Daughter lives with foster family and that gets screwed because of a man. Interspersed is Lohman visiting her mother in prison periodically. Despite the subject matter, the film is never harrowing and hard-to-watch. In fact, it's a hopeful movie that shows a young woman's resilience. It also hit personal spots for me reminding me of my own dad who left my family for another woman. Abandonment sucks. It's Pfeiffer's admission of abandonment (given and received) that cracks open her cold, calculating shell to reveal an actual human being.
The revelation at the end involving the father put a lump in my throat making it hard to swallow and a bit hard to breathe. That's what White Oleander does, it makes you think about your family whether good or bad, past or present. The movie left me feeling grateful and still taken with Pfeiffer's simple, goddess beauty. Or even, her clean beauty. The movie also reminded me that there were still things I needed to find out about my own family.