With Joey King, Selena Gomez, John Corbett, Bridget Moynihan, Josh Duhamel. Directed by Elizabeth Allen. Rated G. 104 minutes.
Do kids still read Beverly Cleary books? Long before the Internet and Harry Potter and video games, Cleary’s entertaining stories about the comic adventures of ordinary kids were enjoyed by young readers. With RAMONA AND BEEZUS, her gentle humor makes a successful transition to the big screen. The result is a family film that really can be enjoyed by the whole family.
Ramona (Joey King) is a friendly girl with a hyperactive imagination. Of course she does have to put up with being a middle child, including an older sister saddled with the nickname “Beezus” (Selena Gomez) because when Ramona was younger she couldn’t pronounce Beatrice. She wants to do well in school, but she has a habit of making up words much to the dismay of her teacher (Sandra Oh). Although she has loving parents (played by John Corbett and Bridget Moynihan), she especially appreciates her Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin), who sympathizes with her plight of being a younger sister.
If you’re not familiar with the Cleary books, they’re similar to old TV show “Leave It To Beaver” in presenting a kid’s-eye view of the world with humor and without condescension. It’s not surprising that Cleary was tapped to write two of the tie-in books for the TV show in the early ’60s. There are lessons to be learned with the lightest of touches, with the most important one being about the importance of family.
There are multiple storylines, the most dramatic one involving Dad being laid off and Ramona worrying that the bank will “take the house,” which she imagines as them physically taking their home away. Ramona tries to raise money to help out, as when she and her friend Howie (Jason Spevack) agree to wash his Uncle Hobart’s (Josh Duhamel) car, leading to an even bigger mess being made. Hobart was Bea’s high school sweetheart, and their on-and-off flirtation is very much in the G-rated mode of the rest of the film.
Indeed, this has a remarkably solid cast for what is essentially a movie about and for kids, with the adults very much into the spirit of the thing. One imagines they wanted to make a movie their own children (or, perhaps, nieces and nephews) would enjoy seeing. The two girls manage to make the characters interesting without losing touch with the fact that they’re just two ordinary girls. Selena Gomez plays Beezus as someone who teases her sibling one moment and enjoys the attention of young Henry Huggins, another Cleary character, the next. King’s Ramona struggles to make sense of the adult world with all of the powers of an eight or nine year old, but doesn’t forget the fun that can be had with a good water fight.
Where “Toy Story 3” and “Despicable Me” were kid-friendly films that adults might enjoy on their own, “Ramona and Beezus” is not likely to interest adults without children in tow. However if you have to take some youngsters to see it, don’t be surprised when you find yourself having a good time as well.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.