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Volume 68, Issue 34, Friday, October 11, 2002

Arts & Entertainment

'White Oleander' strays from sappy Oprah-isms

By Andrew Beard
The Daily Cougar

Generally speaking, a movie involving a mother-daughter relationship as its central theme immediately screams "chick flick." 

Add Oprah Winfrey to the mix, and the stench of overwrought melodrama engulfs the film before it even hits theaters.

Past selections of Oprah's Book Club Where the Heart Is and The Deep End of the Ocean added to the Oprah-curse with screen adaptations that hardly resembled feature films.

In White Oleander, however, director Peter Kosminsky manages to break the spell by refusing to cater to the self-righteous world of Dr. Phil. 

He molds a successful film adaptation with major help from a solid cast.

White Oleander, written by Janet Fitch, follows the journey of Astrid Magnussen (Allison Lohman), a 14-year-old girl attempting to find a home. 

The story line is similar to Homer's Odyssey, with a few exceptions.

Instead of visiting islands inhabited by Lotus-eaters and Cyclopses, Astrid bounces from equally horrific foster homes. Soon after her mother Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) is sent to prison for first-degree murder, Astrid lands at the home of Starr (Robin Wright Penn) and her boyfriend Ray.

After several trips to the outlet mall, Astrid begins to resemble Starr. 

However, when Starr is not around, Astrid and Ray begin making googly eyes at each other.

Kosminsky deserves credit for this aspect of the story. 

Instead of some ridiculous sex sequence, he shows the intensity of their romance with a simple hand brushing across a cheek or a shared smile.

Because of jealousy, Starr gives Astrid the boot. 

After landing at a home for teenagers, Astrid is immediately jumped by a band of girls and sinks into a deep depression. 

To combat her gang of enemies, she cuts her hair with a knife and whispers to the leader, "The next time you and your friends jump me, I'll cut you're throats while your sleeping."

While in the teen hom, Astrid befriends Paul. 

They make promises for the future and commit to each other.

But just as it starts to blossom, the relationship hits a major snag when Astrid is shipped to another foster home.

This time, she lives with Claire Richards (Renee Zellweger), a struggling actress left alone at home by her film director husband, played by Noah Wyle. They hit it off immediately.

Lohman gives the best performance of the movie despite her A-list supporting cast, especially Michelle Pfeiffer. 

Even though most of their scenes are one-on-one in a prison yard, the chemistry between Lohman and Pfeiffer breathes life into White Oleander.

Kosminksy did what no other director has done. He added an edge to the Oprah Winfrey franchise.
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