"...does the exact opposite of what it intends to do"
THE TIGER RISING (2022)
THE "IMDB" PREMISE:
"A young boy discovers a caged tiger in the woods near his home."
OUR [TO THE POINT] REVIEW:
An inspiring story that helps you heal from a past trauma or unfortunate event is a story worth telling. That story can make a much bigger splash if it is a film adaptation from a children’s book meant for a target audience that can grow from the message within.
But “inspiring story” and “message to grow from” are not phrases I’ll be using in this review.
The only thing The Tiger Rising offers is the adaptation part. This film lacks any shred of actual heart. It has a flat premise accompanied by one-dimensional characters. It is an assault on the senses, and disrespectful to the journey many people walk through towards their own recovery.
Based on the 2001 novel of the same name written by Kate DiCamillo, The Tiger Rising tells the story of a young boy who finds a caged tiger deep in the woods behind the Florida motel he is living in and decides it's the best idea to eventually set the tiger free.
The boy is Rob Horton (Christian Convery). He suffers from rashes on his legs and aching in his heart. His mother (Katharine McPhee) has recently passed. We see that Rob never gets to process his mother’s death in a satisfying way due to his father’s insistence that tears are "worthless". Great. His father Robert (Sam Trammel) takes up work at the motel as a handyman to make ends meet.
Flashbacks indicate they had a great life with mom around. Now they’re somehow broke and desperate. Robert works for the motel’s property owner Beauchamp (Dennis Quaid in a horribly miscast role). Beauchamp is a show-off and blowhard; he is the worst caricature of a bad guy imaginable. He is so unbelievably arrogant and cruel it borders on comic book villainy.
Young Rob is sent home from school indefinitely until his mysterious rashes heal despite his affliction not being contagious. Before he is sent away by the principal, Rob meets young Sistine (Madalen Mills), a new-in-town girl full of attitude. She is also suffering from her parents splitting up, although their rupture is through divorce. She harbors delusion that her father will come back and rescue her from the “ignorant hick town” her mother has moved her to.
An eventual friendship develops between Rob and Sistine. Seeing as how Rob was educated through his late mother about the Sistine Chapel, of which Sistine gets her namesake, the pair form a bond of communal suffering yet hopefulness.
On the side we notice that Rob is talented at whittling wood and drawing, an artform he learned from his late mother; likening him to Michelangelo himself. This whole premise is very interesting, but it doesn’t really go anywhere by the end.
One day Rob wanders through Beauchamp’s property and discovers a caged tiger in the woods. He shares the inexplicable news with Sistine who implores to Rob they should let the tiger out. Because Rob is on a school sabbatical, he is recruited by Beauchamp to take the responsibility of feeding the tiger. Rob is handed the cage keys and spoiled meat and is trusted to discreetly complete the chore. Rob also takes his new time off to befriend the lone motel maid Willie May (Queen Latifah). She isn’t the comic relief I was expecting. I wish she was. Nothing and no one else in this film attempts to provide it. She is instead the mentor, a provider of backwoods American wisdom. It feels so forced and contrived. Through Willie May’s guidance, both Rob and Sistine decide that the tiger should be released from the cage. The idea here is that they will achieve catharsis by proxy.
I won’t linger further into spoiler territory. I feel I don’t need to. The climax of the film is sadly unsatisfactory. Many viewers will be puzzled with what the takeaway should be. Writer/Director Ray Giarratana sidestepped what could’ve been a powerful metaphorical film. There are many Christian undertones laid out here. But thankfully, they’re sparse and subtle. But although the film isn’t preachy, the religious nuances don’t add any flavor either. Giarratana instead implants tacky scenes, awful special effects, and terrible acting. Even veterans like Latifah and Quaid feel out of place.
The Tiger Rising does the exact opposite of what it intends to do. There is no true satisfying discharge of grief for the characters. The Tiger Rising is a hollow, bland and boring exploration of healing; it is a mockery of true suffering.