In the midst of July-borne heat, there’s one thing that any movie — particularly a G-rated one — shouldn’t do, which is to depress the living hell out of its audience. This is an inexcusable outcome for what should have been a feel-good summer movie for girls and their nostalgic-minded mothers, most of whom have harbored fondness for author Beverly Cleary’s novelized family from Klickitat Street. Now, consider this a mild spoiler warning for what follows, although it seems useless to provide such a warning with an adaptation of books that’ve been in print for several decades and continue to be widely read during elementary school story times.
With Ramona and Beezus, the filmmakers have not merely adapted the first novel, Beezus and Ramona, in Cleary’s series. Instead, this movie is a dumping ground for various misdeeds from several books, including Ramona and Her Father, Ramona and Her Mother, Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Ramona Forever, and Ramona’s World. Onscreen, the cumulative effect appears choppy and sitcom-ish, but at least the filmmakers have guaranteed to a virtual certainty that there won’t be any future jaunts by Ramona in a theater near you. And although I’m relieved that these are not franchise-minded filmmakers, there’s a more troubling result of the blended-up Quimby family history. Here, the “nine-years and three-months old” Ramona (played with impotent gusto by Joey King) engages in behavior that was better suited for her four-year old self. So, she comes off onscreen as much less of a pest and more of an ADHD-afflicted mascot for the Adderall crowd. Further complicating matters are director Elizabeth Allen’s execution of misguided CGI live-action sequences which, presumably, are meant to lead us into Ramona’s overactive imagination. Once again, the age factor complicates matters, for many of these sequences come from the mind of younger Ramona, whose movie counterpart reenacts them as a fourth grader. Now, this child is obviously not mentally retarded, but one could be forgiven for thinking so while watching a gleefully unaware Ramona parachute (in slow motion, no less) through a cotton-ball filled sky while “Walking on Sunshine” blares in the background. In other words, we’re witnessing a future reprobate instead of the spunky, misunderstood middle child beloved by several generations of young girls.
The movie’s pacing also misses the mark. As is typical of contemporary movie adaptations of beloved classics, the best moments are utterly wasted as a matter of promptly direct course. Sure, there’s Ramona’s defiant, dinner-table battle cry of “Guts, guts, guts!” as well as her act of squeezing an entire tube of toothpaste into the bathroom sink, but this all takes place within the first ten minutes. Then, the audience can look forward to another 90+ minutes of serialized zany antics, which are punctuated by the preoccupied Quimby parents (John Corbett, basically reacting to Ramona as he does to “Tara,” and Bridget Moynahan, essentially a pair of eyebrows), who briefly stop muttering about Dad’s newfound unemployment to shake their heads as if to remark, “Oh, that Ramona!” And since Ramona receives no more depth than a 3 ring circus, it’s nearly impossible to feel empathy for the character, which makes for too many awkward audience moments when the depressing shit kicks into gear. This is particularly the case when, right in the middle of the movie, the family cat, Picky Picky, dies. Since mom and dad are both away, the Ramona and Beezus (Selena Gomez, who’s a bit too — how do you say — Latino to serve as a credible Quimby) bury and memorialize their cat all by themselves. While the importance of this scene shouldn’t be underscored in terms of sisterly bonding, the film never really moves back into jovial territory. The plot merely moves forth onto Ramona’s next mess-up, but the sadness continues to linger.
Within the already cluttered landscape of Ramona and Beezus, several subplots are crammed in as well. Inexplicable importance is placed upon the presence of Josh Duhamel (A little something for da ladies? Not bloody likely.) as next-door neighbor Hobart, who puts the moves on Ramona’s Aunt Bea (Gennifer Goodwin) by popping “Eternal Flame” in the cassette deck. Meanwhile, Beezus heats up her romance with Henry Huggins (Hutch Dano) while speaking French to sound more sophisticated, which brings me back to the obvious miscasting of Gomez in this movie. Are we supposed to believe Selena Gomez could be the product of a sweaty exchange of bodily fluids between Corbett and Moynahan’s eyebrows of doom? Presumably so, but it’s quite telling that Disney Channel’s “Wizards of Waverly Place,” places great emphasis on the titular wizard family’s mixed heritage (that is, a fat white guy married to a slightly ravishing Latino woman), which puts any questions to rest about Gomez’s presence as one of the siblings. In this movie, it’s fairly obvious that Gomez was cast only for her name recognition amongst tweeners; yet Gomez distracts enough to cause lingering questions about Beezus’ parentage, which if anything, functions as just more evidence that this movie doesn’t provide compelling enough material on its own.
For all of the whimsical, anecdotal moments within Ramona and Beezus, director Allen sure manages to inspire absolute inertia in its execution. This adaptation will neither impress fans of Cleary’s work, nor will it inspire those few children who are unfamiliar with Ramona’s adventures to head to the library. Even the lone authentic connection to Cleary’s novels — provided late in the game when Ramona discovers some of her father’s sketches (which strongly resemble those of the original illustrators but are likely mere replicas) — don’t make a difference at all. Sorry Beverly Cleary, but Ramona Quimby is dead.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.