Using the word “inoffensive” to describe a piece of art is damning with faint praise, but that’s the best way to describe Walden Media/20th Century Fox’s Ramona and Beezus. Very loosely based on Beverly Cleary’s award-winning children’s book Beezus and Ramona, it stars Joey King as a little girl who marches to a different drummer.
Ramona and Beezus Stars Joey King, Josh Duhamel, Ginnifer Goodwin, Selena Gomez and John Corbett
Little Ramona Quimby (Horton Hears a Who’s Joey King) is highly creative and has a vivid imagination: perhaps too vivid, according to her sympathetic parents (Bridget Moynahan and John Corbett), exasperated sister (Selena Gomez) and long-suffering teacher (Sandra Oh), who often has to clean up the wreckage. In fact, the only person who truly understands Ramona is her Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin) who was once, and will always be, a younger sister.
However, when Ramona’s dad gets ‘downsized’ from work, she tries to apply her creativity to saving the family house. Can she somehow use her talents to save the day?
The short answer is yes . . . and no. When the film presents Ramona as a free spirit, it’s really an excuse to put King in some epic pratfalls. Sure they’re funny, but the same old gag gets boring after a while, and her creativity and imagination don’t really end up reaping dividends for her. When another character says how much she admires Ramona for “colouring outside the lines” you want to ask: why, when all it means is that she constantly makes a fool of herself? While the film ostensibly presents a free-spirit character, the subtext continuously punishes the free spirit and promotes conformity.
Even with all that, King fares better than Gomez who struggles with a supremely underwritten character. While her Beezus is presented as the ‘good girl’ in the family, she’s just the straight girl for Ramona’s hijinks: Beezus is a typical teen with no distinctive characteristics. When Beezus tells Ramona in one sequence, “You’re the only one who knows me” her character is so underwritten that it kills any intended drama.
The strangest aspect of this film, however, is the not-so-subtle message that every girl needs a boy: Ramona has her best friend Howie (Jason Spevack) while Beezus grapples with how she views her best friend Henry Huggins (Hutch Dano). And then there’s Aunt Bea who finds herself drawn towards her old high school sweetheart (Josh Duhamel).
It’s enough to give any school-age girl, who hasn’t found that “special someone” yet, a complex . . . and may cause Lisa Cholodenko to hunt the film’s producers with large-caliber weaponry.