In Tiger Eyes, the first feature film adapted from a novel by veteran young-adult author Judy Blume, 17-year-old Davey must cope with the sudden death of her father and the usual coming-of-age challenges.
Following her family’s tragic loss, Davey (Willa Holland), her little brother, Jason (Lucien Dale), and their mom, Gwen (Amy Jo Johnson), leave their home in Atlantic City, N.J., to spend time with Gwen’s sister, Bitsy (Cynthia Stevenson), and her husband, Walter (Forrest Fyre), in far-off Los Alamos, N.M.
Curiously unmoved at her father’s graveside, Davey later experiences intense episodes of grief. Through flashbacks, the movie ineffectively teases how her father died, finally revealing the circumstances of his demise far into the film’s 90-minute running time. Meanwhile, Davey’s emotional fits of sadness over her father’s death reoccur over a period of months.
As adapted for the screen, Blume’s 1981 novel plays out with alarming simplicity. Characters are so obvious as to be underlined and color-coded.
Davey is a young woman searching for her way in life. Jane, the new friend Davey makes at the Los Alamos high school she transfers to, is troubled by her brilliant scientist father’s great expectations for her. And Davey’s controlling Aunt Bitsy’s pretense of helping her widowed sister masks a hidden agenda.
Needing a helping hand, Davey is offered one by the transparently enigmatic Wolf (Tatanka Means). Following a rocky intro, she warms up quickly to the young Native American who oozes guarding-angel warmth and beyond-his-years wisdom. But it’s obvious that, even though he never says so, he, too, has a heavy heart.
Despite a kiss and hand-holding, Wolf, at least on screen, keeps chaste distance from Davey. Rather than get physical, the strong, quiet Wolf soothes Davey with platitudes spoken in a soothing baritone.
In several instances, Tiger Eyes is missing some pieces for principal and supporting characters. It’s not clear how Davey’s out-of-it mom, for instance, gets from one place in her life to the next. And Jason, Jane and Jane’s apparently gay friend at school are all left dangling in one unresolved fashion or another.
Tension gets high at Davey’s aunt and uncle’s house, especially between Davey and her hardnosed uncle. It’s puzzling that Davey and her family stay there as long as they do.
Tiger Eyes is so poorly executed as to be embarrassing to watch. Besides its cringe-inducing situations and images, a soundtrack crowded with oh-so-sensitive singer-songwriter songs adds to the discomfort.
Blume co-wrote the film’s screenplay with her son, Lawrence Blume, who’s also the movie’s director. The amateurish results suggest that Tiger Eyes, filled with clichés, predictable turns of events and melodrama as it is, is a vanity project.