While family films are, I suppose by definition, not Kafka-esque psychological masterpieces, it's downright contemptible when they swing too far the opposite way and assume kids don't have brains ( Furry Vengeance
I'm looking at you). I was 10-years-old once, I remember what it was like to be spoken down to and it sucked. Ramona and Beezus
is not one of those films, thankfully, and is actually more a celebration of the intelligence and imagination that children can oftentimes possess. Though I'm not its target audience (girls 8-12) I can say that it's a competently made family film that, though busy at times, was entirely fun to watch.
Beverly Cleary's "Klickitat Street" series of juvenile fiction have been around, well, practically forever and have been a fixture of elementary school bookshelves for decades now, usually bookended by rubber cement (which we sniffed) and crayons (which we ate). While the series started off telling the tale of nondescript Portland, Oregon neighborhood boy Henry Huggins his friends, the Quimby sisters, Ramona and "Beezus," quickly came along and were popular enough to star in their own series of adventures. The books made the jump to the medium of TV once in an ill-fated Canadian series that only lasted ten episodes, but this is the first time it's been adapted for the big screen. Makes you wonder what they've been waiting for all these years.
The plot of Ramona and Beezus
is roughly based off that of Cleary's 1984 series installment Ramona Forever
that follows the 9-year-old into the fourth grade and all the travails that go along with that. In this version Ramona (newcomer Joey King
) is still 9 and in the fourth grade, but in an all-too-timely twist that becomes the central conflict her father, Bob ( John Corbett
), loses his job and has a few arguments with her mother ( Bridget Moynahan
), leaving the girl to fret over the future of her family and their house. Meanwhile, both her sister Beatrice ( Selena Gomez
), nicknamed "Beezus," and Aunt Bea (the ridiculously adorable Ginnifer Goodwin
) are having guy issues, the former with aforementioned now-grown-up Henry Huggins and the latter with old high school flame Hobart Kemp ( Josh Duhamel
That's a lot to be going on in the life of a little girl, and it gets even more complicated with the subplots: there are the various schemes that Ramona hatches to try to save the house after her father is laid off; the issues with their cat, Picky-Picky; and a whole galaxy of school conflicts, most of them adorable. Wait, did I say "most," because I mean all of it is adorable. That's seems to be pretty much the aesthetic rookie director Elizabeth Allen
was aiming for and she does an admirable job of hitting the mark. Using mainly the Quimby family's modestly appointed, narrow, lived-in bungalow as a backdrop to the movie's activity Allen injects a real sense of warmth into everything--it's no exaggeration to say that this movie infects my brain with the desire to move to a picturesque Portland suburb and start a nuclear family. Yeesh!
The performances in this movie go beyond the average for your standard family fare and will likely see its two stars, King and Gomez, rise to the top of the somewhat-crowded kid and teen star ranks (outta the way, Miley Cyrus
!). The best acting, though, definitely came from King. They say the best acting is where the audience doesn't even realize it's going on, and by that definition King impressed me by being just a very natural kid in this movie. John Corbett, on the other hand, seems to be exactly the opposite of that philosophy. I'm not saying his performance was bad, I'm just saying he lays it on very thick here with his take on the perfect Quimby patriarch. Maybe it's me, maybe I just can't separate Corbett from the first role I remember him in, the almost anesthetizing character of parolee Chris Stevens on Northern Exposure
. Whatever it is, I found myself one moment thinking "that's just goofy" and the next wanting to hug the teddy bear dad.
Ramona and Beezus is a fun enough watch for most, but it still has a handful of discernible quirks. For one, this movie is busy--really, really busy. While the main plot plays out--the one where the family has to try and hold on to their house--there are numerous sub plots and wacky happenings that clutter the whole affair. I went over a few of them above, but there are many more and they mostly have no tie-in with the bigger picture. Is this a tacit admission by the writers that kids have very short attention spans and just want to eat up these subplots like so much popcorn? Maybe. In fact, with all the trifles going on one very important aspect of this movie slips through the cracks: it's called Ramona and Beezus
, but hardly any time is spent on the Beezus part! Actually, I'm not sure who got more screen time, Gomez or Goodwin and, unless I have selective vision and just can't see it, I don't see an and Aunt Bea
bringing up the rear on that title.
All told, Ramona and Beezus
is an honest, good-natured movie for the kids that won't kill parents if/when they end up dragging them along. In fact, there's a very positive unspoken message to parents in here about not trying too hard to cap the well of imagination on a child once that springs forth that I appreciated. Though I would like to have seen the whole movie less so running through side stories like a kid hopped up on snorted kool-aid powder and more focused (more of Ramona's imagination sequences that used tilt-shift photography to neat effect would have been nice) it's not a fatal flaw by any stretch. If nothing else, this movie's worth seeing just to catch an early performance of Joey King, who'll looks poised to become a child star prodigy if somebody like Lindsey Lohan doesn't lure the girl into her den of delinquency with promises of candy and puppy dogs.