30 July 2006 | Flagrant-Baronessa
Alison Lohman stands out in subtle coming-of-age drama
Based on the same-titled novel by Janet Fitch, White Oleander tells the story of a teenage girl (Alison Lohman) struggling to survive in foster homes while her free-spirited mother (Michelle Phieffer) is in prison for having murdered her lover with the poisonous flower 'White Oleander'. It is a complex story of the relationship between a powerless girl and a loveless mother that, in spite of its cheesy sounding premise, manages to avoid all clichéd Hallmark moments and project quite a lot of heart in doing so.
White Oleander sees Alison Lohman in a superbly bruised and fragile performance as Astrid Magnussen and we follow her through her struggles, both to bond with her mother and to survive in foster cares. All developments in her life feel natural and genuine, for example seeking the affirmation of an older man (Cole Hauser) in one of her foster homes, and putting herself into a strangely Lolita-like situation -- and this part is viciously well-handled and more effective than any other teen girl/older man jail bait situation I have ever seen.
The film stars a wide variety of blondes, Michelle Phieffer, Alison Lohman, Robin Wright Penn and Renée Zellweger in different parts and they all feel appropriate. Phieiffer is proud, cold and heartless and this is juxtapositioned with Lohman's mildness and loving ways. White Oleander is a film that is indeed very sad, but does not purposely pull at the human race's collective heartstrings in every emotional scene and set-up. This way, in spite of its content, it never becomes sappy. It's not a film I would watch again however, and I would never recommend it to male viewers because it is very chick-oriented.