White Oleander; Gun Culture: Bowling for Columbine
from Janet Fitch’s best selling novel, White Oleander traces
the chaotic life of a mid-teen, Astrid Magnussen, who is placed
in a series of foster homes, when her artist-mother, Ingrid, is
sentenced to prison for killing her latest boyfriend. Fans of
the book will be surprised to see how well Mary Agnes Donoghue’s
script adaptation brings it to the screen. It’s no big jolt that
in the movie Ingrid is an artist instead of a poet. For educators,
both novel and film can prompt classroom discussion about parental
bonds and finding your own way.
Director Peter Kosminsky (TV film Warriors) beautifully
captures the rich and turbulent mother-daughter conflict between
Astrid, brilliantly played by newcomer Alison Lohman, and the
domineering Ingrid, an exceptional Michelle Pfeiffer. In the quick-paced
opening scenes, Ingrid goes from passing her Viking theory of
life to her daughter to being carted off to jail. From then on
they are tied together through Astrid’s visits to her mother in
prison and the letters Ingrid sends out.
As the years pass, Astrid, who narrates the story, lives in a
series of foster homes which change her from pampered young woman
to street-wise punk who collects and resells old clothes. The
most moving foster mom at the Malibu home of an unemployed actor,
Claire (Renee Zellweger) clings to Astrid as her marriage fails.
Astrid also meets a young comic book artist Paul (Patrick Fugit,
Almost Famous) in a county facility where they are being
held between homes. Their bond becomes a relationship that turns
into a way out of a degrading life. In the end, however, the bruised
but resilient Astrid emerges as a talented conceptual artist in
her own right.
Essential film going also is Bowling for Columbine, an
often-successful attempt by Michael Moore (Roger & Me)
to examine America’s gun culture. Using the Columbine teen shooting
spree as a focal point, Moore ranges far and wide–sometimes
putting a bit too much of his POV in the picture. (Oleander, PG-13,
distributed by Warner Brothers; Bowling, documentary, by
United Artists. For film locales and showtimes, call 777-FILM).#
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