Tiger Eyes: Film Review

Tiger Eyes
Catnip for the bookish emo demo.

The first feature adaptation of a novel by renowned young-adult author Judy Blume is co-scripted and directed by her filmmaker son Lawrence.

Multi-generational female fans may enthuse over a feature version of Tiger Eyes -- a fairly standard coming-of-ager -- finally making it onscreen, although the uninitiated might wonder what the fuss is about. A concurrent VOD release should somewhat mitigate the uncertainties of limited theatrical distribution, which will necessitate enthusiastic word of mouth to achieve sustainable momentum. 

After her father is killed in a senseless robbery, 17-year-old Davey’s (Willa Holland) life spins even further out of control when her distraught mother (Amy Jo Johnson) decides to temporarily relocate the family from Atlantic City, NJ to Los Alamos, New Mexico to live with her elder sister while she attempts to deal with the overwhelming grief of losing her husband. Along with her kid brother, Davey must adjust to living with her overbearing aunt and uncle while enrolling in the local high school and suffering all the indignities of a transfer student.

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Her transition is eased somewhat by a flirtation-skewing friendship with the enigmatic Wolf (Tatanka Means), a hunky Native American guy only a couple of years older, who offers both practical and emotional support when he recognizes Davey’s inner turmoil. Struggling to deal with her own sense of loss, extract her mother from a deep depression exacerbated by frequent self-medication and adjust to the uncertainties of her new domestic situation, Davey wonders if she’ll ever get back home and feel like a normal teenager again.

Like many a female-driven Judy Blume narrative, the film centers on the emotional growing pains that come with the inevitable onset of maturity, or at least the inkling of it. Adapting the 1981 novel, the Blumes neither indicate a period setting nor appear to make many concessions to contemporary trends -- there’s hardly a cell phone or computer in sight and scant reference to current events. Davey’s tortuous emotional distress, while generically relatable, seems more appropriate to a younger teen rather than a young woman who’s practically a college freshman. This curious disjunction impacts the performances as well, which are adequate but rarely persuasive.

After working her way up through numerous TV appearances and features, Holland would seem like a safe bet for the Davey character, but she displays a notably limited emotional range, sulking her way through most of the movie when a wider scope of reactions would be more realistic. Tatanka Means, an experienced actor increasingly shifting from TV to feature roles, clearly has more going on than the intentionally innocuous part of Wolf can convey, but carries it off affably enough. His late father Russell Means, the actor and American Indian Movement activist, conveys a relaxed assurance in one of his final screen appearances that’s a pleasure to experience once again.

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In his second feature outing, Lawrence Blume capably connects the dots laid out in the rather schematic script co-authored with his mother, who reportedly included much of the book’s original dialog. Shot primarily under autumnal skies, the Land of Enchantment appears uncharacteristically charmless, in contrast to the few scenes depicting Atlantic City, which at least looks intriguing enough to warrant revisiting at more length.

With an incomparable body of work that’s been translated into dozens of languages, there’s certainly a Blume novel that can break through to a broad audience in feature format -- perhaps Tiger Eyes will pave the way for that eventuality. 

Opens: June 7 (Freestyle Releasing)

Production companies: Tashmoo Productions, Amber Entertainment

Cast: Willa Holland, Amy Jo Johnson, Cynthia Stevenson, Tatanka Means, Elise Eberle, Russell Means

Director: Lawrence Blume

Screenwriters: Judy Blume, Lawrence Blume

Producers: Judy Blume, Ileen Maisel, Lawrence Elman

Executive Producers: George Cooper, Ruth Promerance, Mark Ordesky, Jane Fleming

Director of photography: Seamus Tierney

Production designer: Sharon Lomofsky

Music: Nathan Larson

Editor: Jay Freund

Rated PG-13, 92 minutes