Way back in 2009, I wrote about getting my copy of Tiger Eyes signed by Judy Blume at the National Book Festival. Judy (I call her by her first name because we’re pals now (no we’re not)) told me that her son was working on a screenplay for a movie version of Tiger Eyes.
I followed the progress of the casting and filming of the movie, which Judy frequently tweeted about. The movie was released toward the end of last year, but I only just got around to watching it a couple weeks ago. If you’ll recall, I’ve already reviewed the book, which can be read here.
The movie follows the book very closely. Davey is played by Willa Holland (Arrow, Gossip Girl) who does an admirable job portraying a girl overcome by grief and the desire to keep things normal. Standing in her way of normalcy is her mother, played by Amy Jo Johnson (aka The Pink Ranger – aka my little brother’s first celebrity crush).
Much like in the book, Davey’s father is shot and killed in a robbery at his store on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Davey’s mother decides to uproot the family (which also includes Davey’s younger brother Jason) to New Mexico to stay for a while with her sister and brother-in-law.
The sister and brother-in-law are very different from Davey’s parents in that they are very over-protective and insane worry-warts. Davey befriends Jane, a girl at school whose father works with Davey’s uncle at the Los Alamos lab. And while exploring the canyon, she befriends a guy who goes by Wolf. Wolf turns out to be the son of a patient at the hospital where Davey is volunteering.
The movie follows Davey’s struggles to maintain a relationship with her increasingly depressed mother, to help Jane see that she’s an alcoholic, to break away from the pressure of her Aunt and Uncle, and to see Wolf more often than she does.
It was a good, but not great, movie. The AV Club gave it a C, which I think was a little bit low. The production quality wasn’t the best, but the acting by most of the cast was pretty solid. The book was better, but then again, it’s a rare instance when a movie is better than the book, so I’m trying not to be too hard on it. But there were things missing that would have added a little needed depth to the movie.
- The race aspect. In the book, Davey moves from her very diverse school to Los Alamos, which is very white. In the book, Jane is fairly racist, particularly against Hispanic men. Jane said nothing about Hispanic men in the movie, and the only time it was touched on at all was by Davey’s Aunt who asked who the guy she was hanging out with (Wolf) was. When Davey said his name was Martin Ortiz, the Aunt was like, “Ortiz?”
- But Jane was still an alcoholic, though there was no confrontation between Davey and Jane over it.
- No Davey seeing a shrink. I think that could have added a little exposition in a non-clunky way.
- In the book, Davey makes a connection between the violence that killed her father and the violence unleashed by the bombs her Uncle helps to design at the Los Alamos Lab. This isn’t in the movie at all, which is unfortunate because it helps portray Davey as a very empathetic girl.
- There is no thirteen days of refusal to get out of bed by Davey at the beginning of the book. No panic attacks or hyperventilating or headaches. It makes it seem a little like Davey handles her father’s death a little too well.
- There’s no mention of Davey’s best friend or boyfriend back in Atlantic City, which makes it hard to remember that there is a ‘home’ that Davey should be missing while in New Mexico.
- Willa Holland is a decent actress and does a good job carrying the movie. Everyone else ranges from OK (Cynthia Stevenson as Aunt Bitsy, Amy Jo Johnson as Davey’s mom) to not that great (Elise Eberle as Jane). Holland is basically exactly how I pictured Davey. Thin and willowy with large eyes and very little makeup. It was actually a disappointment to see Holland on IMDB in full makeup because she looks a lot better without it.
- A small change to the story line was really effective here. Instead of Davey landing the lead in a school play, she sings a song in a talent show that she’d always sung with her father. I think it’s the first time we actually see Davey cry over her father’s death.
- Wolf is played by Tatanka Means, and his father is played by Tatanka’s real-life father Russell Means. Russell Means is a very active leader in the American Indian Movement. It relieves me to see that they used actual American Indians in this role because I loathe when white people are given minority roles.
- Before this movie came out, The AV Club did a great interview with Judy Blume which is well-worth a read.