In “Tiger Within” Edward Asner plays a Holocaust survivor who takes an interest in and eventually takes in a runaway, a Midwestern teen punk who drew a swastika on her leather jacket for shock effect.
The product of a broken home, Casey (newcomer Margot Josefsohn) was told the Holocaust is a “myth” by her drunken, disinterested mother. So old Samuel is here to teach her otherwise, and share a few 90something profundities with the obnoxious, angry-at-the-world 15 year-old.
“Your Mom is wrong,” is the first. “Nazis make bad company” is another.
She spies his tattoo, so at least “that’s something we have in common.”
Her utter ignorance of Jews, the Holocaust and history in general suggests she’s not just been kicked out of every school she attended back in Ohio, but that she’s been under a cultural rock her entire life.
That makes “Tiger Within” something of an R-rated primer, an “After School Special” on some very serious subjects — aimed at a teen audience. And like much of this stumbling, wrong-footed effort, it’s just…off.
The entire enterprise, written by Gina Wendkos and directed by Rafal Zielinski, begs the question, “Did you folks think this through?”
-An opening title suggests the time frame is “a number of years ago.” That feels like an afterthought, like something a film distributor gave them as a reason for not picking it up. Making a period piece involves more than visiting a vintage punkwear store and taking away everybody’s cell phones. The cars are modern. They didn’t shoot this as a period piece.
But that’s the only way to make this Midwestern punk runaway with a swastika on her back run into a Holocaust survivor who lost his children in the Death Camps. Samuel would have to be 100+ for that math to work in the 2010s.
We see the kid put on a train and sent to her father, but she departs from an Amtrak station in the sun-kissed mountains of the desert Southwest, not far from Los Angeles.
There are little grace notes in Asner’s German-accented performance, truisms in the dialogue.
“You heading to church?” “Temple, yes.” “Sorry. I keep forgetting the difference.”
“So should everybody!”
The scene where they meet, a kid with a swastika on her jacket curled up against a tombstone Samuel visits to lay a rock on the memorial to his wife, should have been a winner. It falls flat.
Josefsohn makes a perfectly plausible crude, unfiltered and clueless teen. But cutting straight to her job in as a sex-worker is jarring. No friends, never had a boyfriend, never heard of the Holocaust but she figures out to land a “safe” sex work job in massage, at 15? OK.
Casey, like the film itself, feels out of her time — an early ’80s torn-fishnets, tattoo-covered jerk (again, 14 or 15) who’d be a lot more naive about everything, not just history and Jews (“I’ve never met one before.”), no matter what magazines she’s read.
Samuel gets her into school, and being the first person to take an interest in her, makes Casey more open to other people. So let’s graft a first junior-high crush onto this, the most “After School Special” touch of all.
But again, we’ve already seen her as a punk sex worker. So…
Whatever its scattered virtues, “Tiger Within” never shakes that “didn’t think this through” vibe, poor choice of titles included.
MPA Rating: unrated, violence, simulagesex work, profanity
Cast: Edward Asner, Margot Josefsohn
Credits: Directed by Rafal Zielinski, script by Gina Wendkos. Film Art release.
Running time: 1:39