White Oleander (Peter Kosminsky, 2002)
[originally posted 4Nov2002]
When a veteran director of awful TV movies helms the moving adaptation of an Oprah novel, the average viewer should probably be prepared for the worst. And from that point of view, this film is quite the pleasant surprise. It certainly beats the pants of other painfully bad Oprah-novel adaptations like The Deep End of the Ocean.
Kosminsky (whose only other big-screen appearance was an ill-thought-out but well-cast adaptation of Wuthering Heights a decade before this—remember that description, as it will become relevant here in a few minutes) and scriptwriter Mary Agnes Donoghue (Beaches, Deceived) take Janet Fitch’s dysfunction-junction novel and pare out a good deal of the character development, leaving lots of action and a tale that centers more fully on the character of Astrid Magnusson (Alison Lohman, here doing her best Karen Carpenter impersonation). Problem is, while it’s nice to have a strong central character, what they got rid of was in some places central to understanding what was going on in the film (for example, the sequence of events that land Astrid’s mother Ingrid [Michelle Pfeiffer] in prison at the beginning of the film, which makes no sense to folks who haven’t read the book).
Balancing out the plot holes and jerking around is a set of exceptionally well-drawn characters. Lohman and Pfeiffer both carry their roles quite well, and are backed up with an excellent supporting cast. Special mention should go to Renee Zellweger, who turns in the best job to date in her career, and Patrick Fugit (all gorwn up and not recognizable as the same annoying kid who got such a welcome comeuppance in the godawful TV movie Marabunta! a few years ago), Astrid’s best pal and on-again off-again lover (whoops, they cut tat bit out of the movie. too…). Cole Hauser also turns in a fine performance, as he usually does; his role is cut down to the absolute basics, and is one of the places where the movie would have benefited from being a good half-hour or so longer.
All in all, it’s a reprise of last year’s In the Bedroom; some fine performances of some well-written characters in the midst of a script that never quite comes together. ** 1/2