A Girl in Blume, by David Bax
Here’s what’s so appealing about Judy Blume’s novels. They have lessons to impart to young people but unlike most such literature (or television), they’re not preachy. They don’t feel like works created by adults for kids but by someone who has remained on the frequency of teenagers and remembers what it was like to be that age and to feel those emotions so raw and deep. The new film version of Blume’s 1981 novel, Tiger Eyes, as directed by the author’s son, Lawrence Blume, removes the specificity that marks his mother’s work (I’ll admit I haven’t read this one), downgrading it to exactly the kind of afterschool pablum Judy Blume so adroitly avoided.
Willa Holland plays Davey, a teenage girl whose father was recently shot and killed during a robbery at his storefront sandwich shop in Atlantic City. Davey’s mother, Gwen (Amy Jo Johnson), along with Davey’s younger brother, Jason (Lucien Dale), decides to spend some time with Gwen’s sister, Bitsy (Cynthia Stevenson), and her husband, Walter (Forrest Fyre), at their home in Los Alamos, New Mexico. As Gwen retreats further into herself, Davey is left with Bitsy and Walter as rather unwelcome parental figures. So, with the help of some new friends, she must work through her grief and anger without adult influence.
Blume the director shows almost none of the aptitude for humanism and insight possessed by Blume the author. The things that happen in the book were moved over to a screenplay format and then some people acted them out in front of cameras. But there is no depth. There’s nothing happening under the surface. What takes place takes place. What is felt is said out loud.
Holland is well-cast. She knows how to carry herself in the manner of a teenager who is smarter, more angry and more sad than she is generally willing to let on. But she doesn’t quite have the skill to overcome the blandness of the words on the page. Johnson is similarly stricken, becoming almost a caricature of an ineffective mother. Also fulfilling a regrettable archetype is Tatanka Means as Davey’s Native American friend/magical plot device, Wolf. Stevenson gives it her all but is finally too encumbered with bad dialogue to feel completely real. The only ones who stand out are Fyre and the great character actor Russell Means. And they are only able to do so because they don’t have enough lines to get too mired in the screenplay’s stupidity. But you’ll likely want to hug Means and punch Fyre – which are the correct reactions – so, good for them.
It’s probably different in the book. In the book, we probably feel sorry for Gwen instead of just being annoyed at her stupid intransigence. In the book, the local Native American culture probably seems to exist on its own and not only as a disposable tool for Davey’s empowerment. In fact, if you haven’t read the book, I’d suggest you do that to find out if I’m right. It would certainly be a better use of your time than seeing the movie.