I recently spent the morning with an accident-prone, imaginative, spirited little girl – and she wasn’t my own. She was beloved literary figure Ramona Quimby, star of the new, highly-anticipated film Ramona and Beezus, based off of Beverly Cleary’s long-adored book series and directed by Elizabeth Allen (who’s adapted other kid novels like 2006’s mermaid tale Aquamarine).
In our cinematic introduction to this pint-sized pest of a heroine (played by adorable 11-year-old actress Joey King), we find Ramona is a catalyst for all things good and bad. Her well-intentioned schemes always seem to end in utter chaos (She turns lemons into lemonade literally and figuratively when she tries to save the family house by setting up a lemonade stand) and the film beautifully depicts her cerebral flights of fancy and fantasy. One moment Ramona’s swinging on the monkey bars, the next she’s hanging over a bottomless canyon. The mischievous yet loveable lead gets carried away easily and takes us with her – no matter what our age.
Although the film is more Ramona than Beezus, Selena Gomez gives a mature performance as Ramona’s older and wiser sister. Even though Ramona often seems to be the bane of Beezus’ existence, she can’t help but forgive, love and look after her little sis, and their on-screen chemistry realistically depicts the complicated love/hate relationship that is sisterhood.
The sensitive and nuanced film lives up to the timeless book. Director Allen – at the request of Cleary – smartly avoids using any tech items throughout the film (cell phones, laptops, etc.) so that the film, like the book, would resonate with kids of every generation. Plus, if your kids are fans of Cleary’s books, they’ll be tickled to see their favorite scenes recreated on the big-screen: Beezus attempting to speak French, Susan’s temptingly-tuggable curls, Ramona cracking a raw egg on her head. The story’s subplots appeals to a wide age range, from Ramona’s school age highjinx to her teen sister’s first crush, to the romance between gorgeous Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin) and hunky Hobart (Josh Duhamel), and tackling the very timely issue of unemployment as faced by Mr. and Mrs. Quimby (John Corbett and Bridget Moynahan). Of those, the strongest narrative is that of Mr. Quimby and his interaction with his three daughters. In tales about little girls, moms are generally the touchstones, but in Ramona & Beezus, fatherhood takes center stage. John Corbett (who interestingly isn’t a father in real-life) plays the role of “dedicated dad” perfectly when his character gets laid off and finds himself as Mr. Mom. (Ramona sweetly sums it up when she tells her class, “He could have been an artist, but instead he decided to be my dad.”) My four-year-old daughter was so moved by Corbett’s performance, she whispered mid-movie, “I miss my daddy.”
Ultimately, the film’s message is the importance of family and in the end (spoiler alert!), the Quimby family’s love for each other prevails. And we learn that even though these crazy/passionate/well-meaning people we love the most can occasionally drive us nuts (and make life a lot more “colorful” as Mr. Quimby says), we need them – no matter how imperfect. As Ramona puts it, when her family shares a tearful group hug at the end of the movie, “I hope no one sees us out here; we’re so weird.” And aren’t we all?