Directed by Elizabeth Allen
Starring Joey King, Selena Gomez, John Corbett, Bridget Moynahan, Josh Duhamel, Ginnifer Goodwin, Hutch Dano, Sandra Oh
Written by Laurie Craid, Nick Pustay from the series of books by Beverly Cleary
First thing’s first: this movie should just be called Ramona, as it takes many of the elements of all the Ramona Quimby series of books written by Beverly Cleary in the 1950’s to 1970’s. The film is mostly about the perky, stubborn and loving Ramona, confidently played by Joey King. One can safely expect that the addition of Selena Gomez to the film secured that her character’s name would stay in the title. It is really of little consequence, though. Whatever you call it, this movie is a celebration of sisters, daughters, mothers and fathers that deserves to become a staple in American Family viewing.
There was a series on Canadian television called Ramona back in the late 80’s, starring the Sarah Polley as Ramona Quimby. As good an actor as she is, it is hard to envision her doing as good a job as Joey King. King, 11 years old and acting since 2003, knows enough about her craft to go all out when the cameras are rolling. She is not cheesing it up, mind you, but when the director tells her that she is supposed to imagine that she is falling from a great height with a sheet as an umbrella, she plays it for all it’s worth. The thing I appreciate about her acting is her ability to watch others. This is an ability not inherent in most child actors. Even if not in the main conversation in the room, she IS in the room. This presence serves her well in this film and will allow her a long career should she want it.
Using materials from books spanning 3 decades ranging from 30-55 years old can be tough, but the writers and cast do an excellent job of suspending disbelief and pushing the universal elements of family that the story seems modern. One literally can buy that a 9-year-old in the age of Grand Theft Auto, a little girl can still live in a part of the world where “guts” would seem like a bad word to her. Ramona’s interplay with her Aunt Bea (Goodwin) benefits from the update as well, making her Aunt heretofore unmarried to Hobart. The fact that they are both younger sisters gives both characters resonance and pushes forward the honest feelings that Ramona would experience in her position.
The exchanges between Ramona and her father are particularly touching. Every good family relationship is based on consistent behavior. When daily routine is changed, problems are present. They don’t dominate one’s reactions, though. Ramona’s dad loses his job in this movie, but he does not take any shots at the expense of the family because of it. You really get the sense that his girls are his pride and joy.
“They aren’t doodles,” Ramona defends her dad’s drawings on her lunch bag, “They are sketches. My dad is extremely sketchy.”
These sketches are used to great effect, and, in a key point in the film, act as a light in the window during an uncertain time. It is a touching moment that brings some real heft to the characters and their predicaments.
Ramona and Beezus navigates some fairly tricky waters, and some pretty rough topics for a nine-year old. School troubles, job loss, potential home loss, the death of a pet (off-screen), as well as a favorite Aunt and confidant being “shared” with a new (or at least, renewed) suitor. All of these are topics handled, deftly, for the most part, with a minimal amount of cheese.
Josh Duhamel, accentuating Hobart with some true comic chops, makes some good choices in the film. He plays down his good looks with a dorky hat and a scruffy beard, and has the innate ability to make himself accessible and real. Talent such as his, and portrayals here and in When In Rome, makes his talent seem really wasted just lugging around military equipment in the Transformers movies.
The rest of the cast in this film does a good job. Corbett seems all sunshine and roses, until you see the sketches. Moynahan seems loving and distressed, but she has a wonderful scene when Ramona decides she has to leave. Gomez is solid, if unspectacular. This is an uptick from the skills she acquired from all of her years dealing with”Disney parents.” Sandra Oh plays the grumpy Mrs. Meacham with a look that lets the adults know that she is not so down on Ramona as Ramona might believe.
This movie is not the kind of movie that sells in this day and age. For some reason, movies for pre-teen girls have been limited to Disney Princesses, for the most part. I highly doubt another one will be made with most of this cast in tact. This is a shame. Watching this movie made me look at my daughters. And notice them. And love them just a little more. Even when my youngest picks up our old, fat cat Mouse and the cat claws my midsection. She loves that cat.
(**** out of *****)