Beverly Cleary’s ‘Ramona and Beezus’ Works For Young Adults

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Average: 4 (2 votes) Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – “Ramona and Beezus” may not be the perfect film that Beverly Cleary fans hoped for when they fell in love with these characters but it is successful on its own terms in its refusal to talk down to its pre-teen audience and through the massive future star-power of its talented young stars. I admittedly have a soft spot for any film that places teachers on a higher pedestal than businessman and effectively teaches young viewers to stick to their creative visions. It’s flawed, but “Ramona and Beezus” works.

2010 has not been an easy year for the Quimby family. Robert Quimby (John Corbett) has lost his job right in the middle of a massive house-remodeling project that has left the family a little strapped financially. Wife Dorothy (Bridget Moynahan) has had to go back to work and even precocious Ramona (Joey King) has taken to selling lemonade and offering car washes to keep the family from selling their house.

And that’s far from Ramona’s only concern. While older sister Beezus (Selena Gomez) gets great grades, Ramona’s report card features criticism about the young girl’s tendency to make up words. Ramona’s stuck in a world that doesn’t yet appreciate her tremendous imagination. Meanwhile, Beezus is facing the fact that her best friend from childhood could be turning into her first teenage love affair.

Ramona and Beezus
Ramona and Beezus
Photo credit: Fox

Meanwhile to the meanwhile (like a lot of young adult films, especially those based on an entire series of books, “Ramona and Beezus” features a number of subplots), Ramona’s role model, her Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin), begins to rekindle her childhood love affair with the charming Hobart (Josh Duhamel). The arc of Bea finding the returned Hobart again is clearly supposed to mimic what could happen to Beezus if the Quimby family is forced to leave town and she would have to leave her blooming love affair behind.

It’s a hard movie to take too seriously but “Ramona and Beezus” is an effectively believable story of a young girl forced into dealing with the often-disappointing world of adults. She fears she could lose her home, her best friend in her aunt, and her individuality. Of course, most young viewers won’t read it that deeply and will merely enjoy the film as a comedy about a funny little girl and her family.

What’s most effective about Laurie Craig and Nick Pustay’s screenplay is that it plays differently for different age groups. Little girls will love the imaginative fantasy sequences and sillier moments like a water fight between neighbors or poor Ramona falling through the attic floor. Older girls will be drawn to Beezus and her love story, paralleled in the one between Hobart and Aunt Bea. And adults will simply appreciate the charms of King and Gomez, two young ladies who virtually scream future star.

Ramona and Beezus
Ramona and Beezus
Photo credit: Fox

Films like “Ramona and Beezus” live or die on two key elements for this critic — don’t talk down to your audience and cast likable, believable stars. “Ramona and Beezus” nails both of those factors with a script not weighed down by gross-out jokes that recognizes that young girls can handle issues like their aunt getting married or their dad losing their job. And Gomez and King are charming and incredibly likable.

Sadly, when the actresses playing the two title characters are not the focus of the film it pretty much falls flat. Goodwin and Duhamel have no chemistry and their romantic scenes sound like they might have been co-written by a ten-year-old girl. And Corbett and Moynihan have always been bland actors, which could have been intentional to not draw too much focus from the kids but the film could have been stronger if the entire Quimby family was equally interesting.

The effective way in which the theme of staying true to your visions is imparted to an audience almost always treated with nothing but gross-out jokes combined with the work by King and Gomez make Ramona and Beezus a film that will make it easy for those unfamiliar with the work of Beverly Cleary understand why she’s become such a beloved writer.

‘Ramona and Beezus’ stars Joey King, Selena Gomez, John Corbett, Bridget Moynahan, Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Duhamel, and Sandra Oh. It was written by Laurie Craig and Nick Pustay from the books by Beverly Cleary and was directed by Elizabeth Allen. It is rated PG and opened on July 23rd, 2010. content director Brian Tallerico

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