By KARA YORIO
"Tiger Eyes," starring Willa Holland (above), is opening Friday at AMC Empire 25, 234 W. 42nd St., Manhattan, on video on demand and on iTunes. For more information, see tigereyesmovie.com.
The cover is torn and the pages discolored, but Rachel Braun Scherl's first-edition, paperback copy of "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" is a treasured possession. Braun Scherl had the beloved Judy Blume novel tucked away safely in her purse on Monday night in Paramus as she watched "Tiger Eyes," the first feature film of a Blume book, which officially opens Friday.
At the New York Film Critics Series screening at Westfield Garden State Plaza, Blume spoke about her "nostalgia readers," as the iconic writer calls the 20- to 50-year-old women who grew up reading her books. Braun Scherl is part of that group, for whom Blume was an integral part of childhood and adolescence.
"She's like a friend you never met," said the South Orange resident, who waited after the Q&A to meet Blume. "You knew her well but didn't know her at all."
Braun Scherl had actually already met Blume, 38 years ago.
As a 10-year-old at the same sleepaway camp in Massachusetts as Blume's daughter, Braun Scherl ended up quarantined -- alone with the chicken pox and her copy of "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." When Blume heard a fan was sick and stuck alone in the infirmary, she went and said hello and signed the girl's book. On Monday she signed it again, much to the fan's delight.
As young girls, Braun Scherl and her friends felt as if Blume wrote just for them, just as they feel this movie is meant for them more so than today's teenagers.
"To me, I thought it was 100 percent for me," Braun Scherl said.
Blume, born and raised in Elizabeth, agrees. She did this movie for the women who write to her regularly about the impact she had on them when they were girls passing around dog-eared copies of "Forever" after spending their younger years reading "Freckle Juice," "Blubber" and the "Fudge" series.
Her son Lawrence, who directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay with his mother, did not create the movie with the same demographic in mind.
"This is essentially written for teenagers; the theme of loss and discovery are universal, but this is a book for young adults," said Lawrence, talking about the movie's teenage issues of going to a new school in a new town. "I have to make a movie, I'm making a movie for teenage girls - and boys hopefully."
It is one of the few conversations during the collaboration where Judy and Lawrence did not agree and never found common ground.
"I still think I'm right," Judy said after the Paramus screening.
Much to the disappointment of many Blume fans, "Tiger Eyes" is a limited release; the closest theater to North Jersey showing it is the AMC Empire at 42nd Street in Times Square. (The Blumes, along with star Amy Jo Johnson, will be there opening night for a Q&A following the 7 p.m. showing.) The only New Jersey theater showing it is in Cherry Hill.
In an effort to get the film out to as many people as possible on the first day, the Blumes have made "Tiger Eyes" available Friday on video on demand and iTunes.
"For the record, I would much rather see my film playing in movie theaters," said Lawrence, who shot the relatively low-budget movie in 23 days, with his mother at his side the entire time. "It was made as a movie. It's meant for surround sound. It's got beautiful New Mexico vistas."
Lawrence also said the emotion is different in a theater than at home, but it won't drastically change the experience for fans, who are likely to make the release an event for them and their friends.
"Tiger Eyes," published in 1981, is the story of Davey, a teenager from Atlantic City whose mother moves her and her brother to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to live with relatives after their father is shot and killed. As Davey, played by "Gossip Girl" actress Willa Holland, struggles with her grief, her mother's depression, an extremely different town and a new school, she meets Wolf, a Native American who has returned to New Mexico to be with his dying father.
Longtime fans of the book should know that the movie is loyal to the message and emotion but does not stick strictly to the book. In some cases, Judy said she likes the film's plot differences more than what she originally wrote. She hopes mothers watch with their daughters, and Lawrence hopes the daughters like it enough to watch it again with friends.
"Was I worried we were making a serious drama -- and not a depressing drama but a serious film about real characters and real emotions -- in a time where everything that's marketed to teenagers seems to be romantic vampires and running around killing each other to stay alive and all this stuff? Yes, I'm worried," Lawrence said.
Audience reaction to screenings, however, has given him hope.
"I can tell you from watching people react to it, including a lot of teenagers, [that] they are moved by it," he said. "It's not like young people don't have the attention span to watch real people go through real things. They're just not used to it."
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