White Oleander (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Peter Kosminsky|
|Produced by||Hunt Lowry
|Screenplay by||Mary Agnes Donoghue|
|Based on||White Oleander by Janet Fitch|
|Music by||Thomas Newman|
|Edited by||Chris Ridsdale|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.
White Oleander is a 2002 American drama film directed by Peter Kosminsky. The cast stars Alison Lohman in the central role of Astrid Magnussen and Michelle Pfeiffer as her temperamental mother Ingrid, with Robin Wright, Noah Wyle and Renée Zellweger in supporting roles.
The narrator, Astrid Magnussen (Alison Lohman), is the 15-year-old daughter of free-spirited artist Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer). Since her father left before she was old enough to remember him, Astrid depends heavily upon the care of her passionate but largely self-centered mother.
Ingrid's current relationship with a vulgar man named Barry (Billy Connolly) ends when she discovers he is cheating on her with younger women. Ingrid murders him with a poison made from white oleander. Ingrid is arrested and sentenced to life in prison, leaving Astrid in foster care, in the hands of many foster parents.
Astrid is sent to live with foster mother Starr Thomas (Robin Wright), a former stripper who is a recovering alcoholic and born-again Christian. They initially interact well, with Astrid being baptised into Starr's church. However, Ingrid is appalled at her conversion and subtly manipulates Astrid against her foster family. Astrid begins an affair with Starr's live in boyfriend Ray (Cole Hauser), which Starr eventually realises and begins drinking again. After a loud argument with him, she runs into Astrid's room in a drunken rage and shoots her.
Astrid spends some time recovering in hospital before being moved to a violent group foster home. She strikes up a relationship with fellow artist Paul Trout (Patrick Fugit), though Ingrid abuses Paul's artistic talent and Astrid's desire to make friends. Eventually, Astrid is placed in the care of Claire Richards (Renée Zellweger), a former actress. Claire is a sweet, affectionate woman who provides stability for Astrid.
Claire accompanies Astrid on a visit to Ingrid in prison. The jealous Ingrid exploits Claire's weaknesses, and upsets Claire and her daughter. Claire already suspects her husband Mark (Noah Wyle) of having an affair and planning to divorce her. Claire commits suicide, and a devastated Astrid is returned to the group home. Paul is still there but when he reaches eighteen, he moves to New York. He asks Astrid to accompany him but she refuses.
As Ingrid's appeal for release approaches, she tries to bribe Astrid to testify that she did not murder Barry. Astrid realizes thaat she is in a position of power over Ingrid and demands answers about her past. Ingrid admits she abandoned Astrid with a babysitter, called Annie, for over a year when she was younger. Astrid realizes this caused her feelings of abandonment.
Astrid reluctantly agrees to testify, but her mother's lawyer tells her the appeal was denied; Ingrid had refused to let the lawyer call Astrid to testify. Ingrid has finally denied her own selfishness to commit an act of love for her daughter. Newly emancipated, Astrid forges a new life in New York City with Paul.
- Alison Lohman as Astrid Magnussen
- Michelle Pfeiffer as Ingrid Magnussen
- Robin Wright as Starr Thomas
- Renée Zellweger as Claire Richards
- Amy Aquino as Ms. Martinez
- Billy Connolly as Barry Kolker
- Svetlana Efremova as Rena Gruschenko
- Patrick Fugit as Paul Trout
- Noah Wyle as Mark Richards
Differences between novel and screenplay
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There are a number of crucial differences between the book and movie.
- Astrid is 12 years old at the beginning of the novel. In the film, she is 15.
- Ingrid is a poet in the novel but a photographer in the film.
- Ingrid is released from jail after winning her appeal in the novel. In the film she remains imprisoned. In both cases, she chooses to spare her daughter from testifying.
- In the novel, Astrid lives in five foster homes and a group home, staying with Starr, Ray, and Starr's children; Marvel and Ed Turlock; Amelia Ramos; Claire and Ron Richards; MacLaren Children's Center (known as "Mac"); and Rena Grushenka. In the movie, she lives in three foster homes and McKinney Hall.
- In the novel, Astrid does not live with Olivia Johnston (the Turlocks' neighbor) as she does in the film.
- In the novel, Astrid is attacked by dogs and scarred for life; this does not happen in the film.
- In the novel, Amelia Ramos starves Astrid and her foster sisters; this does not happen in the film.
- Ray is almost 50 in the book, but in his 30s in the film.
- In the novel, Claire's husband is named Ron; in the movie, he is renamed Mark.
- In the novel, Astrid becomes highly attached to Barry, to the extent that she dreams of Ingrid's marrying him and Barry's asking Astrid to call him "Dad". In the film, Ingrid's relationship with Barry is heavily condensed, and Astrid's emotional attachment to Barry is only hinted at when she tells Davey she might have saved his life.
- In the novel, Astrid and Paul move to Berlin, Germany. In the movie, they move to New York.
- In the novel, Astrid has an affair with Rena's boyfriend, Sergei. He isn't in the film.
- In the novel, Astrid remembers Annie – her former babysitter – after taking acid with her friend Niki. In the movie, Astrid remembers Annie on her own and often draws portraits of her.
- In the novel, Astrid tracks down her father, who is disappointingly ordinary despite his creative talents. The movie makes no mention of this.
Stephen Holden, writing for the New York Times, called it a "rich, turbulent adaptation," and described the performances as "superbly acted from top to bottom." Comparing it to other films on the same theme – Anywhere but Here (1999), Tumbleweeds (1999), and The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002) – Holden found White Oleander to be the only one to show "how children instinctively absorb their parents' attitudes and personalities." Roger Ebert, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote, "White Oleander tells a sad story of crime and foster homes, and makes it look like the movie version. The film takes the materials of human tragedy and dresses them in lovely costumes, Southern California locations and star power." Andrew Sarris, writing for The Observer, named it as a runner-up on his list of the ten best English-language films of 2002.
The performances were widely acclaimed, particularly those of Pfeiffer and Lohman. The New York Times called Pfeiffer's role the "most complex screen performance of her career... at once irresistible and diabolical", while the Los Angeles Times singled out her "riveting, impeccable performance in what is literally and figuratively a killer role." Variety described it as a "daring, unsympathetic performance". Lohman's work was variously described as "the year's most auspicious screen acting début", a "tremendously weighty and extended role... [taken on] with great confidence" and an "awesome performance".
Pfeiffer won the Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress and the San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actress, and received a nomination for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress.
Zellweger was nominated for the Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture.
Lohman was nominated for the Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Newcomer.
Umbrella Entertainment released White Oleander on DVD in December 2011. The DVD is compatible with all region codes and includes special features such as the theatrical trailer, interviews with the cast and creators, behind the scenes footage and audio commentary with Peter Kosminsky, John Wells and Janet Fitch.
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- Ebert, Roger (October 11, 2002). "White Oleander". Chicago Sun Times.
- Sarris, Andrew. "The Best Films of 2002, and a few Honorable Mentions". The Observer. Retrieved April 5, 2010.
- Turan, Kenneth (October 11, 2002). "'White Oleander' – MOVIE REVIEW". Los Angeles Times.
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- "White Oleander (2002) – Awards". imdb.com. Retrieved April 5, 2010.
- "White Oleander". Umbrella Entertainment. Retrieved May 21, 2013.