"Ramona and Beezus" – Movie Review

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For those of you who grew up reading Beverly Cleary’s “Henry Huggins” and “Ramona” books, the movie, “Ramona and Beezus,” will not disappoint. If you’re unfamiliar with Ms. Cleary’s offbeat characters, strap yourself in, grab a large bag of buttery popcorn, a giant cherry coke, and your favorite candy bar (Snickers, anyone?), then sit back and enjoy the world view of one extremely mischievous, but well-meaning, Ramona Quimby.

The precocious nine (and three months) year-old has a unique perspective on life. It is through the prism of her eyes that we view this movie. From the moment we meet this charmer, we’re hooked. We vicariously experience Ramona’s antics, foibles, and miscalculations during this non-stop roller-coaster ride.

Ramona is the oddball (and terror) of her third-grade classroom. She’s the neighborhood wild child to be avoided at all costs. She’s the super-hero (in her own mind) who, invariably, makes every bad situation worse.

Suffering from classic middle-child syndrome, the drama princess feels inadequate when compared to her gorgeous and “perfect” teenage sister, Beezus, and her adorable, can-do-no-wrong, baby sister, Roberta.

When the Quimby family faces a major crisis, our diminutive heroine takes it upon herself to rescue her loved ones from certain disaster. Unfortunately for Ramona, her great ideas and good intentions only create more problems. While every attempt at being “good” backfires, she bravely continues her campaign to change her image and the outcome of her endeavors.

Director Elizabeth Allen cleverly enables us to enter Ramona’s imaginative brain with the use (but not overuse) of special effects. We are allowed to see the sometimes terrifying, but often magnificent, world inside this amazing child’s mind. And, what a world it is to behold. But, you’ll not get any spoilers from this reviewer.

I particularly loved the relationship between the father, played by John Corbett (“Sex and the City 2”) and his daughters. This bond is rarely explored in family films and, yet, is such a critical factor in the development of every girl’s self-image. In television sitcoms, fathers are often portrayed as buffoons, while most mainstream films feature fathers as deadbeats who are abusive, absent, or weak. Finally, we witness a strong, yet sensitive and caring father, who is able to display his emotions while remaining an authority figure. Bravo!

This kid-friendly film tackles some timely, and timeless, subjects: job loss, financial hardship, first love, sibling rivalry, night terrors, and even death. But this character-driven screenplay never becomes heavy-handed or maudlin. These “serious” topics are seamlessly woven throughout the intricate tapestry of the movie.

Ultimately, this is a coming-of-age tale, where our lead character learns valuable lessons about family, altruism, lost love, courage, determination, and selflessness. We are privileged to experience, along with Ramona, her “aha” moments where she gains wisdom, compassion, and insight.

There are no “throwaway” supporting roles in the film. Each person is real and memorable. The always wonderful Sandra Oh (“Grey’s Anatomy” and “Sideways”) is Ramona’s third-grade teacher who uses an imaginary “mute” button to hush her class. Bridget Moynahan (“I, Robot) plays Quimby mom, Dorothy. Ginnifer Goodwin (“Big Love”) is Dorothy’s younger sister, Aunt Bea, and the only adult who completely understands Ramona’s feelings of inadequacy. Heart-throb Josh Duhamel (“All My Children”) is Bea’s commitment-phobic ex-boyfriend, Hobart.

Rounding out the seasoned cast is doe-eyed stunner, Selena Gomez (voice of Helga in Disney’s “Horton Hears a Who”), as the angst-ridden Beezus, a “horrid” name that stuck when toddler Ramona was unable to pronounce her actual name, Beatrice. As the older sister, she’s in the unenviable position of trying to tame her “imaginative”sibling without getting caught in the cross-hairs. Unfortunately, more often than not, Beezus is at the receiving end of one of Ramona’s well meaning escapades. Beezus is a typical sister; one minute protecting Ramona from a situation gone awry, and the next, restraining herself from strangling the bane of her existence. And, then, there’s the great satisfaction she derives from triggering Ramona’s colorful imagination after the lights are turned out, and shadows appear on their bedroom walls.

The success of this film lands squarely on the very capable shoulders of its young ingenue, Joey King. Although a newcomer to films, it is clear from the moment she appears onscreen that she was born to play this pivotal role. Frankly, I can’t think of another child actress better suited for the part. Think Abigail Breslin and Dakota Fanning (about seven years ago) rolled into one small package of dynamite. With her huge, expressive eyes, petulant glare, and OMG, eye-rolling attitude, Joey captures the heart and soul of this immortal fictional character.

I highly recommend “Ramona and Beezus” (also tagged, “A Little Sister Goes A Long Way”) to all members of the family over the age of nine. I doubt that too many squirmy, younger children will be able to sit through this nearly two-hour film. There is no violence, objectionable language, or scenes with sex or nudity.

I look forward, with great anticipation, to the sequel.

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