Based on the best-selling novel by Janet Fitch, "White Oleander" was directed by Peter Kosminsky in 2002 and stars newcomer Alison Lohman as Astrid, a troubled Los Angeles teen forced into a life of foster care after her mother, Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), is incarcerated for murder. Rated PG-13, the film eschewed some of the sex and violence of the original novel, but remains true to the mother-daughter relationship struggle, a major theme throughout the film.
As "White Oleander" opens, we are introduced to a very tight-knit mother-daughter pair: Ingrid, a solipsistic, moody artist, and Astrid, her 15-year-old, quiet daughter. Removed from the rest of the world in their Los Angeles home, Astrid has little recollection of her father and is close to her eccentric mother. When Ingrid learns that her boyfriend, Barry (Billy Connolly) is cheating on her, she poisons him with white oleander, resulting in her arrest and immediate prison sentencing.
Abandoned by her imprisoned mother, Astrid is forced into the foster-care system. She stays in contact with her mother through private letters, in which she learns that her mother is bored and jealous of Astrid's life on the outside. In her first foster home, Astrid is chased off by a born-again Christian woman named Starr Thomas (Robin Wright Penn), who shoots Astrid when she suspects that she is sleeping with her boyfriend. Astrid spends some time in a juvenile facility, where she befriends a reclusive boy, Paul (Patrick Fugit), who escapes from the world by drawing.
Subsequent Foster Care
In a second foster-home placement attempt, Astrid is sent to live with former actress Claire (Renee Zellweger) and her husband, Mark (Noah Wyle), who try to rehabilitate her. After a dicey and manipulative visit with Ingrid at the prison, Claire commits suicide when she suspects that Mark is cheating on her. Astrid is shipped to her third and final home, where she is forced into manual labor with other teens under the care of a Russian immigrant, Rena (Svetlana Efremova).
While Astrid copes with her new home, Ingrid and her lawyer appeal the murder case. Ingrid asks Astrid to lie under oath as an alibi in the murder case, which Astrid agrees to do for her mother. When the trial date approaches, however, Ingrid refuses to let her daughter testify, knowing that it will ruin their relationship forever. Ingrid returns to jail and Astrid, now 18, moves to New York, where she starts a new life with her friend, Paul.
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