Title: Ramona and Beezus
Directed By: Elizabeth Allen
Starring: Joey King, Selena Gomez, John Corbett, Bridget Moynahan, Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Duhamel, Jason Spevack, Sandra Oh
People of all ages talk about Beverly Cleary’s Beezus and Ramona books fondly, but that still doesn’t classify the series as one for all ages. The stories are for children, and adults just remember them tenderly and enjoy sharing them with their kids; that doesn’t mean the book-to-film adaptation needs to directly appeal to older crowds as well. If only the filmmakers would have ditched such a deliberate attempt at making Ramona and Beezus adult-friendly, perhaps the film would have been as successful as the source material.
Ramona and Beezus is a mash up of Cleary’s beloved books about a little girl and her big sister. The series begins with the character at age four, but the film stars Joey King as a 9-year-old Ramona Quimby with her sister Beezus (Selena Gomez) a teen in high school. They love each other, but Beezus often admits sometimes she just can’t stand her troublemaker of a little sister. Most kids Ramona’s age create their fair share of problems, but Ramona’s wild imagination gets way out of hand a little too often.
At the center of the story are the Quimby family’s financial woes. Ramona and Beezus’ father (John Corbett) loses his job and their mother (Bridget Moynahan) is forced to return to work all while taking care of the two of them as well as their infant sister Roberta. In fear of losing her home, Ramona swoops into action to try to solve the problem. Unfortunately, her good intentions don’t quite cut it and she ends up leaving a path of destruction in her wake.
Ramona and Beezus is a must-see for any young girl with a sibling. Fans of the book will be pleased to see that the heart of Cleary’s work is well preserved in Ramona and Beezus’ relationship. Regardless of age, anyone can relate to Beezus’ frustrations with her rambunctious little sis or even Ramona’s disappointment in seeing her plans backfire. Plus, Gomez and King are absolute naturals in their roles. It’s quite evident that a strong bond exists even beyond the camera, which only makes them more successful in front of it. However, this is ultimately King’s show and she runs away with it. Having only appeared in Quarantine and a handful of TV shows, Romana and Beezus is the film that’ll solidify King as a solid young actress worthy of more prominent work.
If only writers Laurie Craig and Nick Pustay would have left it at that. Cleary’s books are about the relationship between two sisters. Of course they have parents and other elders, but it’s the girls that are always at the focal point. Sadly that’s not the case here and that’s the film’s one flaw and a pretty major one at that. The effort to make Ramona and Beezus appeal to kids and adults alike is far too deliberate, so much so that it’s a turnoff for both demographics.
The inclusion of the family’s cash flow problem is a fine plot point, but the real trouble comes in the form of a relationship between the girls’ Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin) and an old flame who’s back in town, Hobart (Josh Duhamel). What should have been kept in the background constantly takes the attention away from the best parts of the film, Ramona and Beezus. Not only will younger audience members be distracted by these moments, but so will those who these scenes are meant for, the parents. Goodwin and Duhamel deliver fine work, but their scenes are noticeably out of place. As for Moynahan and Corbet, the two put on polar opposite performances. Moynahan’s character is entirely two-dimensional and she seems to know it. Even after returning to work she’s still just the standard housewife and doesn’t enhance the film in the slightest. Corbet, on the other hand, looks as though he’s enjoying his work and perhaps that’s because his character comes with much more to work with. Unlike mom, dad actually has a personality and a relationship with his kids.
There was just no way of making this overwhelmingly inappropriate portion of the script work, but director Elizabeth Allen certainly proves her ability behind the lens elsewhere. With the help of King’s fantastic comedic timing, Allen delivers a hefty handful of incredibly amusing moments, the funniest of which involves a major cooking mishap. Allen also seamlessly infuses a series of animated dream segments that are both visually stimulating and a fun way of portraying Ramona’s endless imagination.
Ramona and Beezus is a film for kids trying far too hard to appeal to their parents. The talent and craftsmanship is evident, but the deliberate effort to include something for older crowds backfires completely. The youngest of moviegoers will have no problem looking past the relationship drama and getting back to Ramona’s fun, but adults and even those going for Gomez will find it too hard to digest.
By Perri Nemiroff