Believe it or not, not every movie I enjoy involves large amounts of action. There’s a lot to be said for a simple story, likable characters, and an upbeat message. “Ramona and Beezus,” a live-action adaptation of the classic children’s books by Beverly Cleary, certainly fits the bill – and is a refreshing change from the Hollywood norm.
Ramona Quimby (perfectly portrayed by newcomer Joey King) is an imaginative nine-year old with an unfortunate propensity for getting into mischief. She struggles in school, feeling like she’s always stuck in the shadow of her straight-A teen sister Beezus (short for “Beatrice” – played by Selena Gomez). But when bad times strike the Quimby household – her father loses his job, and the family home is jeopardized – Ramona vows that she’ll find a way to help her family.
It sounds like a simple plot, and it is. Where the film shines is in its ability to blend a myriad of charming storylines together into a cohesive whole. Ramona’s desperate attempts to please her seemingly aloof teacher…her father’s nerve-racking struggle to find a job….the Quimby girls’ Aunt Bea reconnecting with her roguish long-lost sweetheart…the gentle awkwardness of Beezus’ relationship with schoolfellow/love interest Henry Huggins…all of it works in the context of Ramona’s world. Refreshingly, it avoids the modern Hollywood trend towards “grittiness,” instead taking a look at the brighter side of everyday life.
Film directors, take note: not everyone is struggling through a sad, miserable existence. Some of us actually enjoy life.
The film is also one of the best book-to-movie conversions I’ve ever seen. It departs from the source material enough to keep things interesting (combining the most memorable elements from an 8-book series into one film, and updating the books from the 1950s to the 2000s) while never compromising the series’ core values. This movie is about family – and even better, a family that truly loves and cares about one another. Ramona’s father is never portrayed as the stereotypical bumbling Hollywood dad…he obviously loves his wife and daughters, spends time investing in them, and is willing to make sacrifices for them. Likewise, her mother is portrayed as caring and kind, even during stressful times. And while Beezus and Ramona have the expected sibling disagreements, they’re never truly malicious toward each other.
This is not a movie with a real message, other than maybe “home is where the heart is.” It’s not a worldview film – it’s a family movie that doesn’t try to tackle the “big questions” of life. And that in turn brings up an interesting question: would Christian movies perhaps be more effective if they didn’t try to cover quite so much ground in every film? If more Christian filmmakers created films like “Ramona and Beezus,” that celebrate traditional family values, some of those put off by heavier-handed techniques might be much more receptive to the gospel message. The same holds for a movie such as “The Blind Side” – it’s clear that Christianity is a driving influence on the main characters’ lives, though the message is never overemphasized to the point of becoming didactic. I think it’s possible to reach a balance between embracing culture (becoming like the world) and encountering it (being in the world, but not of it).
I think this may be the only movie I’ve ever reviewed where I can honestly say there is no objectionable content whatsoever. There’s no innuendo, violence, or language whatsoever. It’s wholesome entertainment that both kids and adults can appreciate, without veering into “trite” territory. I personally enjoyed this film because of its blend of innocence with intelligent humor – it’s legitimately funny without ever being crass. That’s not very common in modern movies, unfortunately.
If you need a change from the often-depressing movies and books pervading our culture, go see “Ramona and Beezus.” It’s definitely worth your time. And if, like me, you read the books when you were younger, this one’s a must-see.
It’s a real shame that there aren’t more movies like this.
Normalized Score: 6.9