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Tepid version of the book
on 7 December 2003
Alison Lohman stars as Astrid, an innocent teen thrust into the foster care system when her shrew of a mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) is convicted of murder. Astrid is first sent to Starr (Robin Wright Penn), a trashy, Bible-thumping trailer tramp. The next foster "mother" is Claire (Renee Zellweger), a needy, lonely actress-wannabe. The last stop is the flea-market life of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Astrid also stays at the county childrens home, where she meets Paul (Nick Fugit), a sensitive loner and soul-mate. Astrid's visits to her mother in prison are confrontational and serve as opportunities to pull away from her mother's vicious grasp.
I was a big fan of the novel, but this film is a luke-warm version of it. The script sounded like a first draft, a summary, a roll-call of characters; it lacked any emotional depth or character development. The direction was simplistic. Apparently someone thought they had a great idea: Take some beautiful, famous actresses and put them together and make a feminist statement! In fact, the actresses are wasted in small, undeveloped parts, with the exception of Lohman, who carries the film. The three adult parts lack grit and fire; The character of Astrid's mother needed to be an absolute psychotic filled with hatred. Likewise, the utter selfishness and cruelty of the "foster mothers" that made the novel so unforgettable are just not here. The dvd extras are unremarkable, except to show many of the best scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.
I cannot recommend this film, but those interested in a real look at the damage that can be done in the foster care system should read "White Oleander" by Janet Fitch.