Ramona and Beezus is based on Beverly Cleary's Ramona series of children's books, and while it isn't the only adaptation to give flesh (or ink) to Cleary's indomitable misfit, it's the most accessible retelling to date. Set in Portland, Oregon and swimming in the post-prairie-meets-hipster regional aesthetic, Elizabeth Allen's vision of Ramona makes up for its flaws with a perfect cast and a timeless set of values. In this world, sincerity is decency. The Quimbys aren't the comically dysfunctional family of sitcoms or the tenuously held together family of divorce dramas. They're as ideal as imperfect, and struggling in an economic climate that has a bottomless reservoir for hardship. The Quimbys (four females, one male) may be a bit femme-power-y, which could dissuade the boy demographic, but it's safe viewing for all families and it doesn't degrade itself by leaning on the blandly uncontroversial. While the film can't possibly do poorly it will still deserve higher numbers than it'll get, even with past generation book fans dragging their kids to theaters. DVD afterlife should be tidy.
Ramona Quimby (a supremely charming Joey King) is a plucky and imaginative kid whose big ideas typically get her into a heap of mess. Her imagination is so oversized, in fact, that is seeps out of her and transforms fitted sheets into parachutes and her room into the night sky awash with stars and astronauts. Her older sister, Beatrice, a.k.a. Beezus (Selena Gomez), knows better how to work in the real-world systems that surround her and has both popularity and authority to show for it. While their mother (Bridget Moynahan) stays home caring for their baby sister, father Robert (John Corbett) sublimates his artistic tendencies to hold down a sturdy job as a paper-pusher-it's a sturdy job until he's let go right in the middle of their house renovation. Frightened that the bank will (literally) drive off with her family's home, Ramona embarks on a handful of earning schemes that demonstrate her impractical cleverness and unfortunately cost the family money. Meanwhile, her Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin) is softly lured by her high school sweetheart (Josh Duhamel), an adventurer of unclear distinction who's home for a few weeks. As the bank threatens to get between the Quimbys and their home, and Aunt Bea's budding romance threatens to get between Ramona and her aunt, Ramona's excursions into her imagination grow fewer and further between (which smartly designates them as healthy) and she's forced to lean on her sister, who has her own problems to contend with. In the end of the day, it's not Ramona's penchant for daydreaming or even her cheer, which she works to preserve through her many failures, it's the bonds of family that keep the Quimbys afloat, whatever inventions Ramona thinks the tide can send.
It's fascinating to consider Cleary's Ramona is nearly five decades old, particularly as this incarnation of her poses the 9 year old as a manic pixie dream girl in the making. Ramona's ingenious to a fault and her awkwardness is a mark of her authenticity; without making a case of it, the film pits polished girls against Ramona's lack of polish (implication being polish requires no imagination). A scene in which Ramona botches an audition to play a princess in a commercial puts this contrast before the audience even as Ramona herself is never particularly obsessed with the other girls...or their superior bling. What results, besides a sort of sustainable, down-home attitude towards family, is a view of girl identity that favors the innocent wonk to the worldly (and therefore wounded) prize child. The prize child is not the villain here; she's just a nag whose admissions defend a brand of order that Ramona and the Quimbys gently oppose. This opposition goes a long (if sweet) way toward defining the family as an affectionately flawed entity, one whose cracks prove its longevity and strength. In this vision of Ramona, sincerity is decency and no mores, politics or creeds define those bounds. Screw irony, it's a temp trend anyway.
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Cast: Joey King, Selena Gomez, John Corbett, Bridgette Moynahan, Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Duhamel and Sandra Oh.
Director: Elizabeth Allen
Screenwriters: Laurie Craig and Nick Pustay
Producers: Denise Di Novi and Brad Van Arragon
Genre: Family Comedy
Running time: 104 min.
Release date: July 23, 2010