White Oleander is based on a novel by Janet Fitch. It tells the story of Astrid, Alison Lohman, and her mother Ingrid, Michelle Pfeiffer, a woman of artistic talent and a rigid unforgivingness about life that makes her think she and her daughter are special. 'Don't cry. We're not like that. We're Vikings,' she says to Astrid. But Astrid has plenty of reasons to cry. When her mother poisons her boyfriend, Billy Connolly, with sap of the white oleander and is sentenced to 35 years in gaol, Astrid is placed in a series of foster homes. The first with born-again Christian and reformed alcoholic Starr, Robyn Wright Penn, and her live-in boyfriend Ray, Cole Hauser. Then when that goes awry, she's returned to an institution where she meets Paul, Patrick Fugit. It's tough there but before too long she's placed with lonely sometime actress Claire, Renee Zellweger, and her often absent husband, Noah Wylie. With Claire's fragility as a tool Ingrid dominates her daughter's life from gaol and it's at this point that Astrid realises just how dangerous her mother really is. This is a film marked by a terrific screenplay adaptation by Mary Agnes Donahue - who wrote Beaches and by truly stunning performances, relative newcomer Alison Lohman more than matches the talent around her. The director was Peter Kosminsky making his first feature film after an impressive career in British television. It is a truly gripping story, told with discipline, economy and talent. You can't expect too much more than that when you go to the cinema.