Friday, January 7, 2011

Ramona and Beezus (2010)

Starring Joey King, Selena Gomez
Directed by Elizabeth Allen
Rated G
Based on the books by Beverly Cleary

Ramona Quimby is an adventurous third grader who offer a unique perspective on the events around her and her family, such as her father losing his job, her Aunt Bee's budding love life and antics with her older sister Beezus.

When I first heard about this movie I thought it would pitch the source material out the window and just try and be over the top cutesy. The proceeding trailer for “Marmaduke”, a movie which suffered such a fate, wasn’t exactly encouraging. Marketing is something that can really mess with your expectations. Selena Gomez’s size on the poster, fame from the Disney Channel and original song on the soundtrack made me think that she was the star and that the movie is about sibling rivalry. No, the title is truth in advertising as Joey King as Ramona is this film’s main attraction. 

The first thing I noticed is that the movie isn’t an adaptation of any one book in the series but rather it just cherry picks bits of stories from each of the books. Which I suppose makes sense, after all the books were really just a string of vignettes strung together by a thin overarching plot and the movie does the same thing. Despite how many plot threads the movie has, the script does a very good job if introducing a lot of ideas and then quickly tying the knot so that the story isn’t too cumbersome.

The most glaring problem for me was that none of the 9-year old characters talk like they’re 9 years old. Ramona's independence seems more in line with a 13-year old than her actual age. It’s a bit hard to believe that Ramona can’t spell “delicious”, when she uses words like “individual” or “embellishment” on a regular basis. In something like “Peanuts” or “Calvin and Hobbes” the fact that children speak with such articulate vocabulary is because it is meant to be satires of adult behaviors, but in a world that tries to pass off as a real life their dialogue sounds unnatural and feels like a punch in the stomach every other time one of these kids opens their mouth.

Selena Gomez does a good job in role as Romana’s big sister Beezus, but her role in this movie really just feels like window dressing. In fact, I could say that for a lot of people. This movie has a lot of periphery characters each with their own subplots that we cut away from Ramona to follow every here and now. It can be a little distracting, but it helps to establish a world bigger than just our lead character and gives the events that much more dimension to their reality.

Because of the way the plot picks and chooses from various sources and introduces loads and loads of characters the story has a lot of peaks and valleys to it, but in the end, I think it balances out well. Even if you know the books well, there is genuine interest in wondering how it will work out in the end.

The movie has a tightly executed script and surprisingly good acting. While it can waffle at times between clich├ęs and cuteness, it comes out all right by the end. If they could have tweaked the children’s dialogue it might gotten a higher score. Bottom line, it serves as a good example of family entertainment that doesn’t try stooping to the lowest common denominator.

Final Score:
3 1/2 out of 5. A cut above the rest.

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