MRR Review: "Tiger Eyes"

Photo Credit: Freestyle Releasing

MRR Review: Tiger Eyes

-- Rating: PG -13 (thematic material including a violent incident, some teen drinking)
Length: 92 minutes
Release Date: June 7, 2013
Directed by: Lawrence Blume
Genre: Drama

Author Judy Blume is arguably best known for writing classic 1970s young adult novels such as "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" and "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." However, she has also dabbled in adult writing, most notably with "Wifey," published in 1978, which has since sold more than four million copies. A few of her works bridge the gap between the two genres, featuring protagonists in their mid-to-late teens, but themes and subject matter are a little too mature for younger readers. "Tiger Eyes," originally published in 1981, is one of those books, and the author's son, director Lawrence Blume, has brought it to life in his latest film.

Davey (Willa Holland, "Legion") is an ordinary New Jersey teenager when her father was killed in a robbery. Rocked by the tragedy, the surviving family-Davey, her little brother Jason (newcomer Lucien Dale), and their mother Gwen (Amy Jo Johnson, "Flashpoint")-journeys to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where a visit with Gwen's sister turns into a long-term stay.

At seventeen, Davey finds herself in a new and often explosive environment and a new school as her family slowly changes. Gwen turns to pills, and Jason becomes troubled and forgetful. While Davey does an admirable job of holding her family together in a time of great turmoil and quickly adapts to her new school-even making a quick best friend in the heavy drinker Jane (Elise Eberle, "Love N' Dancing")-it's not until a chance encounter that she begins to make sense of her new personality.

Wolf is older, wiser, and more spiritual than Davey, but they forge an instant connection. Wolf's father is battling cancer, and in a sense Davey and Wolf find themselves united in their grief. Their bond develops into a romance, which allows her to find herself again in a typical coming-of-age film fashion.

Emotional, slow-paced, and subtle, "Tiger Eyes" is a film that will appeal primarily to two very specific demographics: teenage girls who love drama and romance and older fans of Judy Blume's work who appreciate the care taken to bring her work to life on screen. Other audiences may be put off by the pacing, lack of action, and sentimental overtones. Still, the script, written by Lawrence Blume with inputs from his mother-is a strong adaptation of the novel, and the characters themselves are well drawn.

The acting is, at times, masterful, and the cinematography is often breathtaking, although New Mexico's scenic vistas simplified that somewhat. Holland as Davey displays a broad range of emotion and artfully captures the confusion and drama inherent in being a teenage girl. Eberle's portrayal of a troubled teen who's turned to drinking is both believable and tragic. The film's true standouts, however, may be Tatanka Means ("Sedona") as Wolf and his real-life father Russell Means ("Natural Born Killers") as Wolf's father Willie.

As father and son on screen, Russell and Tatanka Means are easily believable. Their interactions showcase tenderness and respect that serve to further engage viewers with the storyline. The evident love they have for one another drives home how much Wolf is grieving, and their relationship-even as it's about to end-works as an excellent foil to Davey's profound sense of loss over her own father's death.

What adds a whole new level of poignancy to each of their scenes together, however, is that Russell Means himself was fighting cancer during shooting. He passed away in October 2012 after shooting but before the movie's release. Knowing about this, viewers will easily get caught up in the emotion both actors show on screen. These were not only some of the last moments between a fictional father and son but also some of the last moments between a very real father and son.

"Tiger Eyes" is the first of Judy Blume's extensive writings adapted to a full-scale feature film, and it clearly demonstrates one of the biggest challenges in translating her work to the screen. Because her books focus primarily on young female protagonists, they often contain a great deal of introspection and private thoughts. Crafting engaging visual sequences from such writing is difficult. "Tiger Eyes" does suffer from pacing issues as a result. The film, however, is more a character study and coming-of-age tale than a plot-driven action movie. What it accomplishes, and in an excellent way, is proving that Judy Blume's novels are as human, relevant, and touching today as they were when they were published more than thirty years ago.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5