To absolutely no one’s surprise, Hollywood has plumbed the vacuous depths of the children’s lit market and come up with yet another hopeful franchise. Obviously, author Megan McDonald meant for her girl with the tangled red hair, the so-called “heroine” of the Judy Moody book series, to evoke aspects of both Pippi Longstocking and Ramona Quimby. This adaptation, directed by John Schultz (who helmed the similarly frenetic Aliens in the Attic), manages to stuff a whole lot of turbulent action into this movie despite the fact that there’s nothing going on in the process. It’s not even loosely controlled — it’s completely uncontrolled and exceedingly loud to boot. For the simple reason that it’s not only a very boring movie but also a very shrill one, adults will positively despise Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer. Kids will tolerate it well enough, but they won’t get anything out if it either.
The titular character, Judy Moody (Jordana Beatty), is named as such because she’s a ragingly temperamental little brat who somehow manages to convince most of the adults in this movie that she’s merely “spirited.” As far as this movie adaptation goes, genuine storytelling is abandoned in favor of episodic, slapsticky attempts at pre-adolescent adventure much like the recent Ramona and Beezus. While the common ground runs far and wide (especially when it comes to the main character’s animated imagination running amuck), Judy Moody is more like Ramona on a very bad acid trip. Although I will give Judy Moody the only compliment that I can possibly muster up at this point, which is that the writers didn’t feel the need to shoehorn in a romantic subplot for the adult audience. Then again, there’s absolutely nothing for the grown ups to watch here except for Heather Graham not getting naked.
Just from the movie’s title, you can practically guess what happens. Poor Judy (who communicates only through modified Valley speak) is set to have what she insists will be the lamest summer ever because her friends are all going out of town. Plus, Mom (Janet Varney) and Dad (Kristoffer Winters) are going on a trip to California without Judy and her little brother, Stink (Parris Mosteller), but the parents assure Judy that she’ll have a great time because long-lost Aunt Opal is coming to take care of them. Judy resolves to pout in her room until September comes, but then Opal turns out to be, like, really awesome because she’s actually Heather Graham, who is the only actor in the movie who actually tries but still somehow overplays a role that’s already written in such a clichéd manner as to be rather obnoxious. Opal is such a funky, free spirit (who lives a nomadic lifestyle with the requisite Peace Corps and Bali qualifiers) that she describes herself as a “guerrilla artist” because she excels at turning metal trash can lids into funkadelic sombreros. She does paper mache projects in the living room. She packs picnic lunches to eat in a graveyard. She drives recklessly with both children in the car. No idea why that last part seemed like a good idea to the filmmakers, so don’t ask.
While, technically speaking, the “manic pixie dream girl” almost exclusively exists in those hipster movies where young men become captivated by the MPDG’s lust for life, the term also applies here to Aunt Opal, who teaches (in the loosest sense of the word) Judy to find adventure in everyday life. And by extension, Opal’s great rack also hopes to inspire the fathers in the audience to embrace (or at least put up with) this piece of crap movie for at least the 90 minutes it takes to watch. Alas, it’s just not worth it. Between the blue vomit and shit sandwiches (literally), I nearly forgot that this was a movie geared towards young girls. Oddly, the casting director also tosses Jaleel White (a.k.a. “Urkel,” all grown up now) into the mix as Judy’s banjo-playing, third-grade teacher, whose tunes only add to the headache of the general experience involved with watching this film. Aunt Opal’s motto is “When all else fails, dance.” And that’s the only thing resembling a lesson here in Judy Moody. With that said, dance away from this one … and fast.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.