What a treat to make the acquaintance of Alison Lohman. The young actress plays Astrid, a wispy heroine without a reliable maternal figure, in the dreary adaptation of Janet Fitch's best-seller White Oleander. After her mother (a ferocious Michelle Pfeiffer) is sent to jail for murder, Astrid is tossed into the L.A. foster-care system. But every time Astrid embraces a new guardian (two are played by Robin Wright Penn and Renee Zellweger), Mom yanks the reins.
Director Peter Kosminsky had the good sense to cast some real talent. If only he trusted his actresses -- and his audience -- a bit more. Does every new stage in Astrid's troubled life have to be accompanied by a radical new hairstyle? Lohman, who swings so believably between her character's soft and sharp edges, certainly doesn't need such narrative hand-holding. The source material, a thick soup of flowery metaphors, is partly to blame. But there are some rougher scenes of sex and abuse in Fitch's Oprah-approved novel. By stripping the story of these ugly moments, Kosminsky maroons his movie off the coast of Lifetimeland. And it's a shame to see Lohman stranded.