[TIGER EYES opens in the Cleveland area on Friday June 7th exclusively at the Atlas Cinemas Great Lakes 16 in Mentor.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
You really don't see too many movies geared towards kids and young adults that actually treat their audience with respect and intelligence get a theatrical release these days. Movies that deal with the sort of difficult issues real kids deal with in actual real life just don't bring in the kind of box office haul that movies about wizards and jailbait-chasing vampires do. That's the business, of course, but when a movie like TIGER EYES does manage to sneak onto a few screens, usually with little fanfare, I like to do my part to let those who might find such a change of pace refreshing know about it.
TIGER EYES is mainly about how teenage girl Davey (Willa Holland) deals with the shooting death of her father. After the tragedy, Davey's mom Gwen (Amy-Jo Johnson) is a wreck. Leaving Atlantic City behind, the family (which also includes Davey's younger brother Jason, played by Lucien Dale) goes to live in Los Alamos with Gwen's sister Bitsy (Cynthia Stevenson) and brother-in-law Walter (Forrest Fyre) hoping to put their lives back together. However tensions in the extended family, in large part brought on by Bitsy's overprotective nature and Walter's general assholishness, make matters worse rather than better. The one bright spot is the native American boy who calls himself Wolf (Tatanka Means) that Davey has a “meet cute” with.
With all the big issues and big emotions TIGER EYES deals with – not just coping with the death of Davey's dad, but the impending death of another character and the alcoholism of one of Davey's high school friends - and that's just for starters – there's always a danger the film could fall into the chasm of cheap melodrama. Thankfully, with the exception of some of the scenes with Davey's Aunt and Uncle, who at times can feel like caricatures, that doesn't happen. Blume's novels are known for their frank and realistic portrayal of kids and the issues they deal with, and that same sensibility is present in this film adaptation. That anchor keeps the film grounded where a lesser movie might have gone over the top into self parody.
Beyond having a solid, meaningful story to tell, TIGER EYES tells that story in a visually interesting way. I was a bit concerned given the “all in the family” nature of this production that it might be a vanity project, but Lawrence Blume proves himself to be a more than capable director. His visual style is at times a bit on the artsy, indie film side, but he never lets that overwhelm the story or the performances.
Holland, who at times can seem one dimensional in her supporting role on Arrow, really shows her range here. She manages to find just the right blend of vulnerability and strength along with a wide range of emotions. Solid work from the supporting cast as well, who like Holland are character actors you've seen in countless TV shows and movies. That's probably why even though Holland is undeniably the lead, everyone works together here as an ensemble.
Although digital distribution brings the cost of getting movies like these on theater screens down some, it's still a tough sell getting people to go see them. There aren't any big stars here, the subject matter will likely sound depressing to many just looking for a good time at the movies, and as much as I wish it weren't so in our supposedly enlightened 21st century, the fact that this film features a female lead who isn't raiding tombs or fighting aliens means a lot of potential male viewers will dismiss TIGER EYES as a “chick flick”. All I can tell you is having the right actors in a role is better than movie stars any day, the film is emotional at times but by no means a downer, and the issues it deals with, although certainly from a female perspective, are universal. Bottom line, TIGER EYES is a really good film, and those of you lucky enough to live near one of the few theaters taking a chance on showing should take advantage of that fact. If not, you can still check the movie out on VOD via Direct TV, Amazon, iTunes, and other VOD providers. 3 1/2 out of 4 stars