Directed by: Peter Kosminsky
Starring: Michelle Pheiffer, Alison Lohman, Ren?e Zellweger, Robin Wright Penn, Patrick Fugit, Svetlana Efremova
Oleander is a pretty flowering shrub seen everywhere around Los Angeles. It' s also deadly poisonous. Imagine white oleander, magnificent in its seeming purity, placed in a sunshine-lit glass brimming with white milk. The metaphor is abundantly clear-it is mother's milk itself that is a deadly poison. A child weaned on this milk is born addicted to it. Can such a child grow to healthy adulthood? Or will the sins of the mother be ever visited upon the daughter? These are the compelling questions in White Oleander, new director Peter Kosminsky's film version of Janet Fitch's Oprah-ballyhooed novel. The white oleander is the signature flower of the stunning, free-spirit artist and single mother, Ingrid Magnusson. As played by Michelle Pheiffer (I Am Sam ), Ingrid is a fiercely independent, self-obsessed goddess. "Our beauty is our power, our strength," Ingrid reminds her 12-year-old daughter Astrid (Alison Lohman, White Boy ), who lives adoringly in her mother's shadow. Without a hint of self-awareness, Ingrid also warns, "Evil is tricky. Just when you think you know what it is-- it changes." Astrid watches helplessly as her mother falls madly in love with a cad and punishes his infidelity by murdering him with the white oleander drink. From prison Ingrid tries to keep her tight hold on Astrid. But Ingrid is unaware of the terrible realities that children without parents face when they are wards of the Department of Children's Services. Astrid's difficult journey through foster homes, and the women who become her mother figures along the way, give White Oleander a profound mythic overtone. Astrid is the virginal child heroine, taken by odd elders of her tribe through various aspects of womanhood, as they try to protect her from the destructive pull of her monster-mother. The older women mix a cauldron of exotic experiences into a psychological potion that will bring Astrid into her maturity. It's a strange and disturbing rite of passage story. Robin Wright Penn (The Pledge ) is the desert tart who wants both Jesus and her hunky boyfriend. Renee Zellweger (Bridget Jones' s Diary ) is an unhappily married actress for whom Astrid gains a deep affection, and in doing so raises her mother's terrible jealousy. Svetlana Efremova is female Fagan, a Russian emigre who turns a pack of foster children into swapmeet fillies. At the detention home, Astrid meets a shy loner, endearingly played by Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous ) whose unflappable love for Astrid becomes her only refuge. By the time White Oleander nears its end, we are cheering for Astrid to escape the women in her life and run off with the gawky Prince Charming. As I said, this is a disturbing story. But like all good myths, White Oleander is a tale of redemption. It's fascinating to see how one mother and her daughter weave themselves through a most complicated dance of life, face their dark sides, and emerge true heroines.