Like the much-beloved kid lit of its source author, “Tiger Eyes,” the first proper film adaptation of a Judy Blume novel, is effectively tailored to a very specific target viewer. For a certain type of contemplative teen girl, its sensitive handling of heavy material will surely prove affecting, though the pic sometimes veers too far to the sleepy end of low-key. In the end, it represents a solid blueprint for a later, better Blume adaptation, but that’s hardly anything to scoff at. Directed by the author’s son, Lawrence Blume (who adapted along with his mother), “Tiger” looks destined for a limited, if appreciative audience.
Shortly after her father is murdered in a robbery, taciturn New Jersey teen Davey (Willa Holland) and her family head out to stay with relatives in Los Alamos, N.M., home of the Manhattan Project, for a brief visit that stretches into an extended stay. Abruptly thrust into a new high school, Davey struggles to adjust to to a life that includes her increasingly catatonic mother (Amy Jo Johnson), a gradually forgetful younger brother and all the typical miseries of high school. (Blume’s attunement to the rhythms of young adulthood are best captured by an awkward yet non-traumatic, ill-starred date, and in the film’s disapproving yet non-hysterical eye toward teenage drinking.)
Meandering around the well-lensed desert expanses, Davey encounters a soulful American Indian dude (Tatanka Means) with whom she begins a careful flirtation, while an unexpected undercurrent of geopolitical subtext subtly rears its head. If the resulting stew of largely familiar ingredients sometimes errs on the side of moony melodrama, it is at least allowed to simmer at a gentle enough rate for its key virtues to survive unscorched.
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While a number of individual scenes and stray bits of dialogue strike odd notes, the emotions and intentions behind them ring true, and when the film finally deigns to hit some emotional pressure points, heartstrings are adequately pulled. Thesping is solid all around, and tech credits are effective, if generally smallscreen-caliber. The presence of the late actor — and fiery Lakota activist — Russell Means (Tatanka’s father), in one of his last roles, lends the pic an extra bit of metatextual resonance.