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White Oleander (2002)

Weißer Oleander

Where does a mother end and a daughter begin?

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 109 minutes

UK Certificate: 12A


Surprises are kept to a minimum in the polished but uninspired ‘White Oleander’. In fact, the only thing it might let you in on that you didn’t already know is that the title actually refers to a flower. It’s a poisonous flower which, as it happens, doesn’t really have a heck of a lot to do with this film, other than the fact that it’s briefly used as a gimmicky murder weapon (that’s obviously something the makers of ‘Cluedo’ will need to try to work into their next edition).

The plant-plucking assassin in question is the arty-farty arsey-tarsy painter Ingrid (a bored-looking Michelle Pfeiffer), who for some reason is going out with crass bearded Scotsman Barry (Billy Connolly – you can see how he got the role). When Barry stops screaming “wee jobby” for long enough to snuff it, Ingrid gets a life sentence for “love in the first degree”, as Bananarama would put it. Well, that and murder. Meanwhile, teenage daughter Astrid (Alison Lohman) is left to be dragged from one troubled foster home to the next.

From that point on it’s really Astrid’s story, and it has to be said that serious questions should really be asked of her local social services department. Among those trusted to look after her are a drunken gun-toting Jesus-bothering crack whore played by Robin Wright Penn, and Renee Zellweger as a moping suicidal failure. Honestly, who’s checking up on these people?

Based on the novel by Janet Fitch, if it wasn’t for the involvement of several high-profile names you’d expect to see it popping up on Channel 5’s afternoon schedule. In other words, when nobody’s watching. It alludes to melodrama, but none of the cast really seem to have enough of their heart in it to produce the goods. The production values are faultless, the direction absolutely fine, and the storyline always engaging enough to hold the attention. Unfortunately, in each of those departments it lacks the necessary spark to make it anything other than instantly forgettable.

It's Got: Michelle Pfeiffer, in the front room, with the pulled-up plant.

It Needs: To take some risks, add a dash of the unexpected – ANYTHING to drag it above the average.

DVD Extras Director’s commentary, cast and crew interviews, TV Spots, and a trailer. DVD Extras Rating: 6/10


An unremarkable women’s flick.