Title: Tiger Eyes
Director: Lawrence Blume
Screenwriter: Judy Blume, Lawrence Blume from Judy Blume’s novel
Cast: Willa Holland, Army Jo Johnson, Tatanka means, Elise Eberle, Cynthia Stevenson, Lucien Dale, Forrest Fyre, Russell Means
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 5/20/13
Opens: June 7, 2013
When I was in junior high school, our English teachers would hand out lists of recommended summer reading, warning that some of these books would appear after vacation for our pleasure. The lists were divided in half: one half for boys and the other for girls. Maybe “Little Women” for the fair sex and “Johnny Tremain” for the guys. The assumption was that the twain of the two genders ne’er would meet. I hope and trust that this idea would be considered sexist today and that the practice has been discontinued, because why shouldn’t guys want to know more about The Other while girls likewise would be curious about us animals? At the time I was in JHS, Judy Blume was eleven years old, still not the prolific author she was to become, but undoubtedly her books would all be put only in the girls’ column if she were fifty at the time, and more’s the pity if so.
Judy Blume sold a hundred million copies of her output, give or take a thousand, with “Tiger Eyes” standing in for her 1981 novel. Now “Tiger Eyes,” co-written by Ms. Blume and her son Lawrence Blume and directed by the latter is strangely enough only the first of her books to be adapted for the screen. Watching the movie, one might see that it’s targeted to teen-aged girls, er, young female adults, but I’m a male and not a teen and why shouldn’t I enjoy this work of fiction that would surely resonate in the hearts of audience members who’d identify with the title character?
What’s more, the movie hits upon a great many themes that are felt by so many teens today (though they usually will not admit this any more than Ms. Tiger Eyes would in the early parts of the story). Think about angst, emotional suffering, not fitting in, changing geographical location through no wish of one’s own, making out, fear of performing on stage. And as for the adults in her life, think depression, arrogance, friendliness, fountains of wisdom. Specifically, when the father of 17-year-old Davey Wexler (Willa Holland) is murdered, her mother, Gwen (Amy Jo Johnson) moves her and her little brother temporarily from Atlantic City, N.J. to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where young Davey at first knows only her Aunt Bitsy (Cynthia Stevenson) who takes in the family during this tragic period. Willa Holland plays Tiger Eyes most of the time as though she had just eaten a pickle with a pint of no-fat yogurt, screwing up her face in confusion and pain, until she meets-cute a Native-American climber, Wolf (Tatanka Means), who gains her confidence and whose hospitalized dad (Russell Means) serves as bearer of wisdom as does a Native American chief who (in Taos, I believe) leads a tribal dance.
“Tiger Eyes” deals with the way an adolescent, without ever wanting to lose her memory of the dad she loved, is able to move on thanks in part to the friendship of fellow student Jane Albertson (Elsie Eberle) who has a problem with drinking—having tried unsuccessfully to share a bottle of vodka with the more innocent Davey. In one scene containing ironic humor Aunt Bitsy, guiding a tour of the Los Alamos atomic museum, praises the work of scientists who developed the A-bomb but is embarrassed when Davey’s kid brother notes that a few people were killed by the only country that had ever used the weapon on another.
“Tiger Eyes” is sappy, the sort of film that you might see on TV, e.g. “The Hallmark Hall of Fame,” but why shouldn’t it be? After all, a girl loses the dad she loves to an act of violence and is restored more or less whole by the loving people she meets our West. The ensemble acting is fine all around. I’m certain that Judy Blume has been pleased by this traditionally constructed, reasonably absorbing adaptation.
Rated PG-13. 92 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B