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By Michael Dequina | November 14, 2002

Michelle Pfeiffer + an Oprah Book Club selection is a deadly combination, as seen in the big screen Lifetime movie that was “The Deep End of the Ocean.” Director Peter Kominsky’s adaptation of Mary Agnes Donoghue’s novel White Oleander is every bit as estrogenic, if not more, but distinguishing it from Oxygen territory is its surprisingly hard edge. The Pfeiffer/OBC combo is quite literally deadly here, as the star delivers a standout performance as Ingrid, the less-than-model mom to teenage Astrid (Alison Lohman). After she murders her boyfriend with a taste of the titular poisonous plant, Ingrid is sent to prison–where she proves the startling degree of her influence and control over her daughter, who unhappily bounces around from foster home to foster home, with stays in an orphanage in between.
All the household changes give the film an episodic quality that leads to a certain start-and-stop dramatic momentum. But fresh face Lohman holds the film together emotionally, more than matching up to the bigger name stars that turn up in supporting roles, namely Robin Wright Penn and Renée Zellweger as two very different prospective foster parents. Pfeiffer’s showy turn may win most of the (much deserved) accolades, but her work would not nearly be as effective without Lohman’s grounding performance to play against, nor would the whole of the film have as much dramatic impact.

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