White Oleander | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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White Oleander

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Adapted from a Janet Fitch novel that was immediately snapped up for Oprah's book club, this coming-of-age drama has all the trappings of a Lifetime Channel presentation, and I must concede that the symbolic use of a snow globe early in the film seemed a very bad sign indeed. But director Peter Kosminsky elicits such genuine performances from his talented cast that the film rarely strikes a false note, and its view of maternal relationships is so harsh that any sense of uplift at the end seems well earned. Alison Lohman stars as a 15-year-old whose sharply judgmental single mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) murders her own boyfriend and gets a 35-year prison sentence. The daughter is placed with a succession of foster mothers--a stripper turned born-again Christian (Robin Wright Penn), a loving but needy B movie actress (Renee Zellweger), and a ruthless immigrant who sells secondhand fashions (Svetlana Efremova)--and though all of them use the girl for their own ends, she extracts lessons from each episode that help her break free of her mother's fierce psychological grip. Pfeiffer, playing one of the meanest characters of her career, is a formidable presence throughout, and Zellweger is perfectly cast as the fragile actress; her relationship with the girl is paradoxically both the kindest and the most selfish. With Billy Connolly, Noah Wyle, and Patrick Fugit. 110 min. Biograph, Century 12 and CineArts 6, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Esquire, Gardens 1-6, Lake, Norridge.

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