White Oleander (2002) is an American motion picture drama directed by Peter Kosminsky. The cast features Alison Lohman in the central role of Astrid Magnussen, and Michelle Pfeiffer as her temperamental mother Ingrid, alongside Robin Wright Penn, RenéeZellweger, Billy Connolly and Patrick Fugit in supporting roles.The screenplay was adapted from the novel of the same name by Janet Fitch, which was selected for Oprah's Book Club in 1999.Young Astrid is very close to her single mother, Ingrid (Michelle Pfieffer) whose free-spirited, semi-man-hating lifestyle is all well and good until Ingrid meets and eventually poisons Barry Kolker, a man who romances and then spurns Ingrid. When Astrid's mother goes to prison for the murder, Astrid is left bouncing around foster care and increasingly wondering if her mother's parenting was really very good in the first place. She lives with all different types of families from Born-again Christians to posh to a youth detention center. As she grows older, she recognizes how her mother's manipulative personality has caused her most all of her life's grief. She is forced to really soul search and is left with more questions than answers, including why her mother committed the murder.
This work contains examples of:
Abusive Parents: Ingrid qualifies as emotionally abusive. The foster parents also qualify for physical abuse. Arguably, Astrid also suffers sexual abuse at Ray's hands, though he is not technically her foster parent (just her foster mother's boyfriend) and Astrid is consenting though underage.
Adaptation Dye-Job: As noted below, Claire goes from a brunette in the novel to blonde in the film.
Adaptational Attractiveness: Ray, Starr's boyfriend, goes from a graying, overweight, 50-ish carpenter who is missing three fingers in the novel to a 30-ish(at most) rugged pretty boy played by Cole Hauser in the film. Paul Trout might be this as well, as he is explicitly stated to be ugly in the novel, and he's played by Patrick Fugit in the film.
Alcoholic Parent: Starr is this to her biological children and an Alcoholic Foster Parent to Astrid and the other kids she fosters. She starts out in recovery, but goes off the rails when she thinks Astrid is sleeping with Ray. Claire shows shades of this in the novel toward the end of her appearance, since a bottle of sherry never leaves her side during Astrid's final weeks there.
Anti-Hero: It could be argued that Astrid is a Type III.
Asshole Victim: Barry did lead Ingrid on, to the point she and her daughter believed the relationship to be lasting.
Bittersweet Ending: Astrid gets her answers from Ingrid and begins living her own life, but is dirt poor and has nothing to her name save the suitcases she's constructed as memorials to her time with her mother and her time in foster care. More of a Downer Ending in the novel, as Astrid's narration toward the end implies she has learned nothing from any of it.
Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Kind of, in Astrid's final foster home. She's the blonde, Yvonne is a brunette, and Nikki has dyed magenta hair.
Also implied in regards to Ingrid's mother in the novel: there's a throwaway line toward the end about Ingrid's mother drowning in the cow pond when Ingrid was thirteen. It's not elaborated on or mentioned in detail, but it's very chilling when you think about it.
Everyone Loves Blondes: Astrid and three/four out of six mothers (Ingrid, Starr, Marvel (book character), and Claire (Film only, in the novel she was brunette and looked like Audrey Hepburn).
Gratuitous Foreign Language: the novel has a lot of this, bordering on Bilingual Bonus. Astrid uses several languages in one line, during the scene where she and Nikki go to the museum after dropping acid. Among others, we have:
Karma Houdini: Starr possibly gets away with shooting Astrid in the novel, since she runs off, though both novel and film have elements of a What Happened to the Mouse? situation. In the novel, Amelia Ramos gets away with starving the girls she fosters, though Astrid gets out. Ingrid ultimately gets away with murder in the novel. It's only insinuated she does the same in the film.
Miscarriage of Justice: The two college girls who visit Astrid at Rena's believe this about Ingrid. She tells them otherwise.
No Periods, Period: Averted in the novel when Astrid mentions that she stopped having her period due to being starved by a foster parent. Played straight in the film.
Norse Mythology: Astrid and Ingrid mention this a bit in the novel. Since they're Scandinavian, it makes sense.
Parental Abandonment: In spades. Astrid's dad is a Disappeared Dad, Ingrid is eventually Astrid's Missing Mom(twice: First when she left Astrid with a babysitter for a year when she was much younger, and the prison stint is the second time), and Astrid's foster mother Claire, the one she admits she loved the most, commits suicide after her husband leaves her.
Also implied as part of Ingrid's backstory in the novel: her mother drowned in the cowpond when Ingrid was thirteen in a possible suicide, and while little is mentioned of Ingrid's father, Ingrid tells Astrid that she (Astrid) is lucky not to have a father, so it's possible Ingrid's father may have abandoned her as well, even if it was only in an emotional sense following the death of Ingrid's mother.
Parental Incest: While this doesn't actually happen in the literal sense, in the novel both Astrid and Ingrid repeatedly refer to Astrid's relationship with (significantly) older men as 'laying down for the father.' Make of that what you will.
Really Gets Around: Ingrid before Barry and prison, though it's portrayed positively and seems like more of a twisted Ethical Slut situation (justified, as it's seen though Astrid's eyes and at that point, Astrid worshiped her mother). Astrid weaves in and out of this through the novel.
Satellite Love Interest: In the novel, Paul Trout is into comics and Astrid, and that's about it, even after she leaves California and lives with him. He's given a little more to do in the film, but not much.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Somewhat of a Justified Trope, since Astrid is in foster care. However, Starr shooting Astrid is a very jarring example- it's never mentioned after Astrid leaves the home (and you think it would be, since y'know, the main character just got shot!, but it's not a large enough incident (in terms of the scope of the novel and film, both of which are pretty vast for their mediums) to constitute Aborted Arc.