Even after tragedy, Blume’s ‘Tiger Eyes’ sees the good in life

It defies explanation why Hollywood has never made hay with Judy Blume’s novels. After all, she’s an outstanding storyteller, especially skilled at mapping the troubled hearts of teens (that oft-targeted movie-biz demographic), and a wildly successful one (with 80 million books sold).

Finally her director-son Lawrence Blume has brought one of his mom’s classics, 1981’s “Tiger Eyes,” to the screen. Starring the almost distractingly model-pretty Willa Holland (TV’s “Gossip Girl”) as Davey, a 17-year-old whose life is shredded by the violent death of her beloved dad, it screens on Feb. 17 (with the author and the filmmaker appearing) and Feb. 18 (with just Lawrence Blume speaking), one of the bigger attractions of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival’s closing days.

The Blumes co-wrote the screenplay, so it’s a given that it’s loyal to her novel — at times, perhaps too loyal. Blume’s story is highly episodic: the dad’s senseless murder in his Atlantic City, N.J., sandwich shop; Davey, her mom and little brother moving cross country to New Mexico to heal with relatives; Davey’s sense of dislocation until a highly spiritual Native American hunk rescues her in a steep canyon; her mom’s retreat into pain pills; her new friend’s drinking problem; the aunt and uncle who shelter them acting needy, controlling and sometimes just plain mean …

There’s so much story in the 92-minute adaptation, you can almost hear the pages turning at times.

And yet … “Tiger Eyes” is a touching movie despite the feeling that you’re moving from one dramatic chapter to the next, and there’s something refreshing about the way it isn’t edited to within an inch of its life.

In a film with some uneven performances, Holland gracefully holds down the center, especially in her scenes with Tatanka Means as frequent savior Wolf, who could have come off as a holy-native cliche but instead seems entirely real. His real-life dad, the late activist Russell Means, is terrific as a patient Davey befriends while volunteering at a hospital. He gives her small doses of life-affirming advice even while slowly dying.

It’s hard to know if this life-affirming film, without big stars, a big budget or a big concept, will have a life in wide release. But time spent with it is a most affirmative experience.

“Tiger Eyes” shows at 2:40 p.m. Feb. 17 at North Point and 2:20 p.m. Feb. 18 at Lefont Sandy Springs.

Other AJFF highlights (advance reservations suggested):

  • “Out in the Dark” is a drama of forbidden love between a Palestinian psychology student and a Jewish Tel Aviv lawyer. (12:10 p.m. Feb. 15, Lefont Sandy Springs)
  • The Israeli dramedy “The World Is Funny” blends fantasy and reality as three estranged siblings with abandonment issues face adult challenges. (2:20 p.m. Feb. 15, North Point; Feb. 16 sold out)
  • “El Gusto” is a documentary about Chaabi, an Algerian musical form uniting Spanish rhythms and Arabic vocals. (2:40 p.m. Feb. 15, Lefont Sandy Springs)
  • “The Rabbi’s Cat” is a French animated film based on Joann Sfar’s best-selling graphic novel. (1:55 p.m. Feb. 17, Lefont Sandy Springs, in 3-D)
  • “Glickman” is a biography of the Jewish sprinter known as the “Flatbush Flash” who went on to become a New York sports broadcasting institution. (4:30 p.m. Feb. 17 sold out; 8 p.m. Feb. 17, North Point)
  • “Crossing Delancey, ” the sweet rom-com that examined class differences in New York, gets a 25th anniversary showing. (8 p.m. Feb. 17, Lefont Sandy Springs, with star Peter Riegert doing a post-screening Q&A)
  • In “A Bottle in the Gaza Sea,” a 17-year-old French girl only recently settled in Jerusalem is haunted by the random violence she witnesses during the Israel-Gaza conflict of 2007-08. She writes a message in a bottle that is recovered by a young man in Gaza, leading to a series of emailed exchanges — sometimes challenging, sometimes supportive — that help widen their worldview. (11:35 a.m. Feb. 18, Lefont Sandy Springs; Feb. 17 sold out)
  • In “The Last White Knight,” filmmaker Paul Saltzman, a former civil rights worker, returns to Mississippi to encounter the KKK member who once assaulted him. (11:45 a.m. Feb. 18, Lefont Sandy Springs)
  • “The First Fagin” links the infamous “Oliver Twist” character to a 19th-century Jewish convict. (5 p.m. Feb. 18, Lefont Sandy Springs)
  • The newly restored Yiddish musical “The Singing Blacksmith” receives a 75th anniversary showing. (7:45 p.m. Feb. 18 and noon Feb. 19, both at Lefont Sandy Springs)

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