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Tiger Eyes

2012 | 92 min | PG-13 | 1.85:1

Tiger Eyes


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Theatrical release date

 07 June, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Tiger Eyes Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, June 10, 2013

It’s hard to believe that “Tiger Eyes” represents the first major motion picture adaption of a Judy Blume novel. The celebrated author (“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”), once a mighty junior high library beacon to adolescents everywhere, seems like a natural fit for teen cinema tastes, with her frank discussions of growing pains and her commitment to an honest assessment of emergent emotions. While Blume’s world is long overdue for a big screen spin, it’s unfortunate that the first effort out of the gate is “Tiger Eyes.” While the feature is rich with malleable misery and juvenile disquiet, it makes for a leaden, rushed movie, with Blume’s own son responsible for mucking with the nuances of the source material, flattening promising conflicts and painful introspection.

After the murder of her beloved father during a robbery of his cafe, Davey (Willa Holland) is lost, isolated in Atlantic City with little brother Jason (Lucien Dale) and her over-medicated mother, Gwen (Amy Jo Johnson). Brought to Los Alamos, New Mexico by Gwen’s overbearing sister Bitsy (Cynthia Stevenson) and her no-nonsense husband Walter (Forrest Fyre), Davey and her family hope to experience a reawakening of spirit, but find little comfort. Off to deal with her suffocating grief in the middle of nowhere, Davey meets Wolf (Tatanka Means) in the wild, drawn to the Native American’s confidence and emotional availability. The teen also enters into a new high school, bonding with alcoholic Jane (Elise Eberle) while working through a burgeoning relationship with Wolf, dealing with his complicated collegiate future. Powerless to process the death of her father as her mother loses interest in her own children, Davey struggles to work through her mounting troubles, unable to adequately mourn the life that was lost.

Lawrence Blume is credited as the director and co-screenwriter of “Tiger Eyes,” with his last gig behind the camera, a comedy titled “Martin & Orloff,” released in 2003. That’s a long time between jobs, and his rustiness is evident throughout “Tiger Eyes,” which has all the gawky craftsmanship and flat-footed melodrama of a debut movie. While his family connection is untouchable, perhaps mother Judy (who tag-teamed the writing, adapting her 1981 book), should’ve selected a more refined cinema stylist to guide the effort, or at least someone with the ability to open the material up and discover its inviting melancholy, a series of blue notes stemming from coming-of-age realities and the despondency of personal loss. All Lawrence Blume can conjure is the tone of a static after school special that vaguely touches on Judy Blume’s themes and characters, showing more interest in constructing a somber blur than a richly detailed voyage of adolescent awakening, detailing the steps of compassion necessary to reacquire equilibrium.

Despite the Blumes’ artistic control of “Tiger Eyes,” it appears as though little care was offered to its screen unveiling, with Davey’s experience as a wounded teen aching to connect to someone lost in the translation, viewed here as a flip book of worry and tears. Actually, there isn’t a single successful characterization in the film, with most of the supporting players stripped of honest motivation, pared down to screenwriting formula. Poor Jane has it the worst, with her drinking problem established right away as a critical plot point open for future dissection, only to never find any hint of resolution. Bitsy is also dealt some rough qualities, shaped into a one-note harpy for Davey to rebel against, blackened as a villain for reasons never clarified (barren Bitsy’s hit with mothering envy, but she’s ultimately treated like a fussbudget monster).

The only two personalities in the feature permitted room to breathe are Davey and Wolf, but any textures emerging from the characters are extracted solely from the respective performances, as Holland does a terrific job articulating the insulation of the teenage mind, playing remote and curious with laudable fluidity. Means also supplies gentle work, handed the rare opportunity to play an intelligent, supportive love interest. I only wish there were more scenes with the duo and their convincing chemistry.

So much of “Tiger Eyes” is stiff and poorly executed, with hearty scenes of ache lost to choppy editing, making Davey’s ultimate destination as an empowered, enlightened young woman meaningless when all the dramatic grit is scrubbed away. It’s clumsy work lacking a vibrating soulfulness and endearing realism that made the source material such enduring work. Judy Blume and her iconic literary status deserve a finer cinematic representation than this unfortunate bungle.

Starring: Willa Holland, Amy Jo Johnson, Cynthia Stevenson, Russell Means
Director: Lawrence Blume

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