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Ramona and Beezus

20th Century Fox // G // July 23, 2010
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Anrdoezrs]

Review by Casey Burchby | posted July 22, 2010 | E-mail the Author

Surprisingly, the release of Ramona and Beezus marks the first time that Beverly Cleary's hugely popular and beloved series of children's novels have been adapted for the big screen. Ramona Quimby, a precocious misfit who never seems to do the right thing in the eyes of others, is one of the indelible characters of children's literature - a young, tomboyish, imaginative girl, always concerned about the consequences of her actions. Most authors of children's books portray children as reverse extrapolations of adults - imbuing them with an uneasy pairing of infantile dialogue and unlikely levels of wisdom. Cleary has always been different. She has a true respect for her characters, treating them as whole, autonomous human beings who actually sound and act like children. This film adaptation retains that distinctive respect for children, and effectively captures the spirit of the novels.

Drawing story elements from several of Cleary's books, Ramona and Beezus finds eight-year-old Ramona Quimby (Joey King) and her older sister Beezus (Selena Gomez) awaiting a group of workers to "cut a hole" in their house. Their parents (played by John Corbett and Bridget Moynihan) have planned to add a new bedroom onto their Portland home to make room for a new arrival - the girls' new sister, Roberta. But everything comes to a screeching halt when Mr. Quimby loses his job; his long struggle to find a new position is not easy, and the strain is especially hard on Ramona, who winds up feeling responsible for much of their situation. Through ingenious and creative means, Ramona helps restore balance to the Quimby family household despite the economic hardship, with the romantic misadventures of Beezus (who can't make any progress with Henry Huggins) and the girls' Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin) (who can't resist the advances of a former flame) in the background.

Ramona and Beezus features a good lead performance by Joey King as the put-upon, whimsical, inventive Ramona. She has a breezy naturalism that avoids the precocity of most "kid acting." Credit is also due to director Elizabeth Allen, not only for ably handling all the members of her juvenile cast (Jason Spevack is also good as Ramona's neighbor and friend Howie Kemp), but also for envisioning Ramona's many flights of fancy as Gondry-esque visual experiences that utilize a cut-out, school project aesthetic. However, one regret is that these fantasy sequences are used heavily in the first half of the picture, and are absent from the second half. Had they been more consistently distributed, it would have helped maintain this very important aspect of Ramona's character. Still, Allen keeps up an amiable tone throughout the movie while allowing the family's predicament (Mr. Quimby's joblessness) to retain a timely, topical edge that reminds us of the stakes they face.

In a couple of key roles, casting is an issue. Selena Gomez looks nothing like Joey King's sister, and although the older girl's performance is fine, her selection as Beezus is a little mystifying. Also, as Mrs. Quimby, Bridget Moynihan can't help but look like anything but a mother of three. Beyond her looks, she just doesn't evince much maternal warmth.

On balance, however, the rest of the cast is fine. Corbett converts his casual, beach-bum routine into a "cool dad" character who clearly loves his family. As Ramona's beloved Aunt Bea, Ginnifer Goodwin brings a good deal of sweetness and humor, and even Josh Duhamel - as Bea's love interest - manages to eke out some charm. The film's conclusion, while a bit too sugary and tidy, reinforces the film's themes - particularly the value of resilient individuality and dogged persistence. Ramona and Beezus wasn't made for 33-year-old male misanthropes, but it got through to me on a certain level nonetheless. For families with young children, it is solid, useful entertainment that does not pander to or infantilize its audience. Recommended.

Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.




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