Ramona and Beezus
What It Is
“No matter what my sister Beezus says,” announces Ramona Quimby (Joey King), “I’m not a pest.” She’s got it partly right. Ramona’s view frames most of this movie, but numerous reaction shots invite you to see Ramona from other perspectives. To Beezus (Selena Gomez), as well as their parents, classmates, and neighbors, the nine-year-old is sometimes a pest — lovable and irrepressible, but a pest nonetheless.
Directed by Elizabeth Allen, the movie remixes characters and story bits from several of Beverly Cleary’s beloved Ramona Quimby novel series, especially 1981’s Ramona Quimby, Age 8, 1984’s Ramona Forever, and 1977’s Ramona and Her Father, in which Robert Quimby (John Corbett) loses his job. When she overhears her dad and mom, Dorothy (Bridget Moynahan) arguing, Ramona is determined to help the family keep their house. And so she sets about various efforts to make money, including washing cars and selling lemonade. These episodes typically chaotic results, though one also brings together her Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin) and her high school boyfriend, Hobart (Josh Duhamel), recently returned to town and hoping to rekindle their romance.
This subplot sidetracks Ramona briefly, as Bea asks for her help in keeping a level head about the charming boy who broke her heart years ago. But Ramona still has time for a series of other distractions, including her daily frustrations at Beezus’ apparent perfection (straight-A report cards), her baby sister Roberta now getting all mom’s attention, and the snooty girl at school who makes fun of her. Most of all, Ramona is unsure how to handle Beezus’ budding romance with Henry Huggins (Hutch Dano), “the boy who used to eat dirt in the back yard.” Should she be jealous, resentful or happy for her sister, who’s growing up and, it seems, away from her? Luckily, Aunt Bea offers good advice, as she is also a younger sister, to Ramona’s mother.
Why It’s Fun
Ramona is a terrific character: in the novels, she’s full of creativity and energy, always finding ways to sort out troubles — sometimes troubles she gets herself into. The film conveys that vivid imagination in animated sequences: Ramona imagines herself floating in outer space; she and her neighbor Howie (Jason Spevak) pretend they’re jumping into the sky as they leap from a kitchen doorway; she’s a TV princess selling peanut butter; and she dreams up gently scary monsters during her first night in her own bedroom. As she puts at the film’s start, “It’s good to scare yourself once in a while.” She likes to “color outside the lines,” she says, to take risks, challenge herself, and have adventures.
She also loves her parents, and develops an especially close relationship with her dad as he stays home and Dorothy goes to work while he looks for work. He does tricks with hard-boiled eggs, helps Ramona to draw the “longest picture in the world” (on a huge roll of paper), and she helps him defend the family during a wild water fight with Hobart’s family. Father and daughter are both sweet and dynamic together, forming the film’s most affecting and authentic-seeming bond.
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of the books may have mixed reactions. While it’s lovely to see Ramona realized on screen — Cleary held out for almost 50 years before she agreed to sign over the film rights — it’s also disappointing to see her so simplified, in a way that’s more like typical movie kids who mug for the camera, rather than her more subtle version in the books. Granted, the books allow a first person narrator, which helps to illustrate in words how she feels.
Readers of the novels are able to track her shifting responses and complex processes of thinking, her growing up over a series of books (she starts off as a four-year-old, in a 1950 book focused on Henry Huggins and his excellent dog Ribsy), and her sheer intelligence. No matter how daunting the obstacle facing her in each episode, Ramona is plucky and smart.
In the movie, however, most of these episodes are very brief and the slapstick is broad, as if it’s trying to squeeze in too much plot. This means transitions between scenes are sometimes left out.
What To Be Aware Of
The film features a few scenes where younger viewers may sympathize but also benefit from some conversation about them. Certainly, dad losing his job worries the girls, especially when they overhear their parents yelling or find him setting up a bed for the night on the couch.
One afternoon, the family cat, Picky-Picky, dies, and Ramona and Beezus, hoping not to worry their already worried parents, bury him themselves in the backyard. Because the movie doesn’t spend much time on the cat (who is more prominent in the books), the loss is not overwhelming, but Ramona is reasonably upset.
At one point Ramona is watching the realtor show the family’s house to potential buyers, and she falls through the floor into the living room below: the scene is surely loud and tumultuous, but no one seems worried enough that this little girl might be hurt or afraid: instead, they again get mad at her for being “a pest.”
And when Ramona feels rejected and worried enough to run away, her mother takes one of those “reverse psychology” approaches, pretending to encourage her daughter to take off, even packing her suitcase for her. Of course, Ramona is distraught. She also comes close to boarding a bus — until her family arrives at the bus stop at the last minute!
As Ramona struggles with her feelings and events that don’t go her way, the adults who are least sympathetic are her mother (understandably feeling stressed because her husband lost his job) and her teacher, Mrs. Meacham (Sandra Oh), whose impatience and criticism are less clearly motivated: she just seems grouchy.
7 out of 10
Ramona and Beezus
Director: Elizabeth Allen
Cast: Joey King, Selena Gomez, John Corbett, Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Duhamel, Bridget Moynahan, Sandra Oh
Studio: 20th Century Fox
US Premiere: July 23, 2010