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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » White Oleander
White Oleander
Warner Bros. // PG-13 // March 18, 2003
List Price: $27.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Marcotte | posted May 15, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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P R I N T
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I didn't see White Oleander in the theater. The thought never even crossed my mind, because I, like millions of other Americans I am a guy.

And White Oleander is definitely a chick flick. It's a movie about relationships—not romantic guy-girl relationships or kinky girl-girl relationships, it's a movie about mother-daughter relationships.

Many men would rather taste cold gunmetal in their mouths than to suffer the indignity of such a film.

But those guys would be wrong. White Oleander is a film that transcends genres. It may be a chick flick, but it's also a damn good movie with interesting characters and a compelling plot.

Alison Lohman is the star of the movie as Astrid, a young girl sent to a series of foster homes after her mother is imprisoned for murder. Astrid's survival instincts surface as she becomes a chameleon, adopting the characteristics of each family she is placed with.

While Lohman does a remarkable job of playing Astrid, it is Michelle Pfeiffer who steals the show as Astrid's mother, a manipulative and evil woman who dominates Astrid's life even though she is locked behind bars.

I don't think I've ever seen Pfeiffer play evil before. Sure she was Catwoman, but Catwoman was never evil. Catwoman was naughty -- as in "I've been naughty and I need a spanking." I liked Catwoman.

Here she appears at times to be a female version of Hannibal Lector, manipulating Astrid and her foster parents with cold precision and evil intent.

Pfeiffer's performance is bolstered by excellent support work from Renée Zellweger, Robin Wright Penn, Zvetlana Efremova and Patrick Fugit.

The DVD

Video:
The movie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1:1.85. It has been enhanced for your 16:9 screen. It is also available in a full-frame, pan-and-scan version.

Sound:
The film is presented in both English and French in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. The dialogue and the score are rich and vibrant, although not much to write home about. This is a movie about people talking to each other. If you want more 'splosions, go rent xXx and let it suck a few more IQ points off the top of your head.

Extras:
The DVD includes the standard "making of" featurette that is fairly well done. Oddly, it includes a second "making of" featurette that repackages the same interviews in a different order. There is some exclusive material in each, but not enough to warrant a second feature. I guess the editor was bored.

There is also a decent commentary track with the director, producer and the writer of the original novel, Janet Fitch. Fitch brings a lot of life to the commentary and featurettes as she is so obviously pleased as punch to be there.

Final Thoughts:
White Oleander transcends its "Oprah's Book Club" roots. Rather than relying on the clichés and formulas of your average chick flick (see any Lifetime original movie), it challenges the viewer with unusual depth and creative storytelling.

While not a perfect film, White Oleander deserves credit for it's ambition and execution.

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