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Tiger Eyes: My take on the movie based on Judy Blume's bestseller

Update: 1/15/2014 Tiger Eyes available on DVD today. Here's my take on the movie, originally published on 6/9/2013

Tiger Eyes, the movie based on Judy Blume's novel was released yesterday in select theaters AND on VOD. I thought about driving into Pasadena then decided to pass on the traffic and watch it in the comfort of my own home. 

I spent the extra buck on the HD version ($4.99) last night on Amazon; we have a fairly massive flat screen which I think did justice to this really lovely film adapted for the screen by Blume herself, along with her son, Lawrence, who also directed.

Here's the skinny on the story from imdb.com if you haven't read the book. 
After Davey's father is killed in a hold-up, she and her mother and younger brother visit relatives in New Mexico. Here Davey is befriended by a young man who helps her find the strength to carry on and conquer her fears.
Wishing I could articulate my thoughts as eloquently as Peter Travis did in Rolling Stone; alas ~

Lawrence Blume and Willa on location in New Mexico
It would have been easy for Tiger Eyes to become a soapy mess; less sensitive direction could have landed the ya movie, with its heightened emotions, in glorified after school special land. Thankfully, Lawrence Blume was sensitive; sensitive to getting the film version of his famous mother's book right. Let me be clear; I don't know for certain that he got it right in terms of the book since I haven't read it (sorry, Judy!) but he certainly got it right as a film. I have a feeling though, judging from Ms. Blume's twitter account that Blume is so in love with her son's rendition, he never has to buy another Mother's Day present.

The film captures the mystery of New Mexico's landscape
From the opening shot of Davey, on the beach at Atlantic City, the sound of waves crashing and seagulls squawking gradually replaced by the first of several songs which play throughout, he gets it right. With only a couple of million dollars to spend, he gets it right by making smart choices like hiring Seamus Tierney (happythankyoumoreplease) as cinematographer. Tierney's loving looks at the New Mexico landscape made me forget I hate the desert and the way he lights Willa Holland's extraordinary face - if at times a little too reliant on it - brings our focus to the wealth of emotional content she has to share. 

Blume also got it right in the music department; I hardly think I'm the target market (ya romances like this are a guilty pleasure, yes?) but my inner child bopped a bit to the anxst-y emo-ridden score, including songs from Michelle Branch. Whether the film overused the song device - I think there were at least three times where we see Davey riding in a car, one of the pop tunes playing over - I leave to the fans the film is geared to. Got a feeling they loved them!

Willa Holland stars as Davey in Tiger Eyes
But where Lawrence Blume really got it right is Willa Holland. The most memorable 'thing' to come out of the film has to be her luminous talent, carrying the film in the key role of Davey. When Wolf (Tatanka Means) tells Davey "You have a beautiful smile Tiger but sad eyes", he could be talking to Holland herself. The charismatic young actress has eyes that     promise something like wisdom or at least an intelligent consideration, 'there's a there, there' if you will; eyes which seem to indicate she's seen more than her twenty one years belie. She's an odd combination of Natalie Portman, Shailene Woodley and Jennifer Lawrence; in both her Audrey Hepburn-esqe looks and in her uncanny ability to connect with her emotions, allowing us to see Davey's hurt and horror, gathering our sympathies. 

Tatanka Means was appropriately sweet and sexy as the 'brill' (reaching out to ya readers with this one) young Native American off to Cal Tech on a scholarship. I loved that Blume had Davey discreetly grab a rock when the two first encounter each other alone in the desert; the action representative of the girl's fear in the moment, but of the way the Native Americans were and still are feared, especially in conservative strongholds like Los Alamos. Judy Blume doesn't shy away from showing our dark sides, neither does her son. I'm glad I didn't know that Russell Means who plays Wolf's dying father in the film, died last November after the film's completion. I shed a few tears watching Tiger Eyes; that poignant piece of irony would have opened the floodgates.

The cast also includes Amy Jo Johnson (fine as the devastated widow) and a darling Lucien Dale as Davey's bereft little brother. Forrest Fyre as Davey's rigidly conservative uncle was fine while  Cynthia Stevenson stretched belief at times with a thin, sketchy stereotype until the end when I realized how much pain her Bitzy carried with her because she couldn't carry a child, so I cut her some slack. 

The film illuminates an array of tough issues - the loss of a parent, gun violence, teen drinking, sex, cultural taboos, prejudice, love...forbidden love - in an honest, affecting way. And it looks and sounds beautiful. Tiger Eyes moved me; if I were 18 again I think it would have swept me away.