You've seen the poster for White Oleander with the four blondes staring out at you. This movie could have been called The Attack of the Killer Blondes. It could also have been subtitled, ``Michelle Pfeiffer as you've never seen her before." I've seen her in everything from Into the Night (1985) to What Lies Beneath (2000) but she has never had a role like this before. She's always had tough streak and a great death glare but she's never played anyone truly evil before. And the scary part is that she's really great at being evil. White Oleander is adapted from a best-selling book and tells the story of the mother (Pfeiffer) of a teenage daughter (Alison Lohman) whose idea of a relationship is a little sex and a lot of control. This all changes when she really does fall in love but with the wrong guy (Billy Connolly). He dumps her and soon Pfeiffer is under arrest for murdering him. Her daughter then begins a trip through foster-home hell. First stop is with a bible-thumping piece of trailer trash (Robin Wright). Then it's on to a Hollywood couple (Renee Zellweger and Noah Wyle), and a Russian blackmarketeer with stops in between at the state juvenile home where Lohman meets her soulmate (Patrick Fugit). Meanwhile, her mother is in prison and loving it. Pfeiffer's only worry is that she can't totally control her daughter's life from inside prison.
I haven't read the book but this
is a very good movie. The cast is great. In particular, Pfeiffer
gives one of the best performances of her career. You can forget
when you look at her that she can really act. She already has three
Oscar nominations (Dangerous
Liaisons, The Fabulous Baker
Boys, Love Field).
It could be fourth-time lucky for Pfeiffer with this part in White Oleander.
The director has her dressed down and wearing no makeup. She still looks great of course, but it gives her a raw power. It works much better than a lot of prison movies like, for instance, Ashley Judd in Double Jeopardy who wears lots of makeup and designer prison outfits. Lohman is the real star of this film appearing in every scene while Pfeiffer's force of nature is always hovering on the edge. The foster mothers seem almost as caricatures compared with Pfeiffer but Wright and Zellweger are both very good. Wright has a great time with her part. Noah Wyle, best known of course as Carter on ER, has a very small part. But he is so identified with his ER character that the audience reacted with audible surprise to see him appear onscreen in White Oleander. Patrick Fugit, bigger and older than in Almost Famous but still goofy looking is good as the only ``normal" person in Lohman's life.
The weirdest thing about this movie is the absence of Billy Connolly who is billed high up in the credits along with Pfeiffer, Wright and Zellweger. He is Scotland's answer to Robin Williams but is best known over here for his role in Mrs. Brown. In White Oleander, he suffers the biggest example of ending up on the cutting room floor that I can remember since Kevin Costner in The Big Chill. They obviously shot a lot of scenes with him and Pfeiffer but he appears on screen only a couple of times and has no lines.
This film works so well because
Pfeiffer meets her match in Lohman. White Oleander could have
been a weepy soap opera but this film, like Pfeiffer's character, has no
remorse. The push and pull between Pfeiffer and Lohman keep it from
careening over the edge. Go see it. Pfeiffer is scarier than anything
you will see on Hallowe'en.