Dad Steals the Show in Sister Story Ramona and Beezus
- 2010 23 Jul
DVD Release Date: November 9, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: July 23, 2010
Genre: Family, Comedy, Adaptation
Run Time: 104 min.
Director: Elizabeth Allen
Actors: Joey King, Selena Gomez, John Corbett, Bridget Moynahan, Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Duhamel, Sandra Oh, Hutch Dano
Ramona and Beezus, the latest adaptation from Walden Media of a beloved series of children's books, is unobjectionable G-rated family entertainment. It's not very cinematic, nor is it memorably performed by its lead actresses, but a charming performance by John Corbett as the girls' father helps the film immensely.
Nine-year-old Ramona Quimby (Joey King) lives in the shadow of big sister Beatrice, aka Beezus (Selena Gomez). At school, Ramona's playground antics and argumentative nature test the patience of her teacher (Sandra Oh). At home, her parents (John Corbett and Bridget Moynahan) bear with Ramona's childish disobedience, as when she hides her report card in the freezer and squeezes an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink. When upset, Ramona threatens to use a bad word, yet the worst she can come up with is "guts."
Beezus isn't making Ramona's life any easier. In addition to viewing Ramona as a pest, Beezus frets about a boy, Henry Huggins (Hutch Dano), and about the family's financial health after dad loses his job.
That element of the story helps Ramona and Beezus strike a nice balance between kid-friendly antics and serious social relevance, as the father's experience of corporate downsizing jeopardizes the family's stability. While dad uses the layoff to take a break and rethink his career track, he argues with his wife over the prospect of defaulting on the mortgage and losing the house. Overhearing the squabbles, Ramona imagines the family home being wrecked and literally carried away—one of the scarier flights of fancy pictured by director Elizabeth Allen, who sporadically visualizes Ramona's daydreams.
Those scenes constitute the only special effects in Ramona and Beezus, and while the film's more traditional approach to storytelling is a breath of fresh air among the FX-driven summer blockbusters, it goes too far in the opposite direction, toward blandness.
However, the heart of Ramona and Beezus is not in its visuals but in its father-daughter relationship. At its best, Ramona and Beezus taps into the fears children associate with the loss of things that, to their minds, seem permanent but aren't: a father's job and the family home. Corbett, whom older audience members might remember from My Big Fat Greek Wedding or the Sex in the City franchise, anchors the film with a sensitive, humorous performance as the head of the family. His cheerful heart in the midst of a career crisis is good medicine for those around him (Proverbs 17:22).
The ongoing "jobless recovery" in this country gives the father's storyline a connection to the headlines without turning the film into a social treatise. Instead, writers Laurie Craig and Nick Pustay use the fear of losing the family home as a basis for Ramona's moneymaking schemes that she believes will restore the family's fiscal health. Needless to say, Ramona's plans don't work out as she envisions. But fear not: A happy ending is never seriously in jeopardy.
If there's a problem with the film, it's the lead performance by King, whose acting during much of the early part of the film consists of little more than making faces. To King's credit, the screenplay demands more of the actress as the story proceeds, and she's mostly up to it. Gomez does her best with what's she's given, but there's not much to her role.
That leaves the adult characters to carry film and they come through. In addition to Corbett's performance, a romantic subplot involving Ramona's Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin) and a suitor (Josh Duhamel) gives the film a more mature appeal, even if the arc of their romance is somewhat predictable.
Ramona and Beezus isn't groundbreaking entertainment, nor is it something that demands a big-screen viewing experience. However, it's inoffensive, occasionally sweet and intermittently charming.
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Language/Profanity: "Butt out"; Ramona threatens to use a bad word, but can come up only with "guts"; "stupid"; "jerk"; "doofus."
Smoking/Drinking/Drugs: The parents raise a toast in honor of Ramona's new room.
Sex/Nudity: None; husband and wife kiss, as do newlyweds; Aunt Bea tells Ramona she wants to "strut" in front of an old boyfriend as a way of showing him "everything he missed out on"; Hobart invites Bea to come to his apartment in Alaska; a boy says he saw Ramona's underpants.
Disobedience: Ramona questions her teacher, hides her report card, and sprays toothpaste into the sink; Ramona is given to flights of fancy, and is accused of lying; Ramona tells her mother she's running away.
Marriage and Divorce: Ramona's classmate explains that parental arguments lead to divorce; the sisters hear their parents argue, then see their dad preparing to sleep on the couch for the night; a wedding scene.
Violence: Ramona falls from jungle-gym rings into mud; Beezus spits lemonade onto a boy; a car being worked on rolls away, and paint spills on it; Ramona imagines scary things while lying in bed, and Beezus tries to frighten her; vomiting; a stovetop fire is extinguished; Ramona discovers that a beloved pet has died; a water fight involving hoses, water guns, etc.; Ramona falls through the attic floor.
Religion: A joke about Ramona's house being cursed, and being built over an ancient burial ground.