With Jordana Beatty, Heather Graham, Preston Bailey, Parris Mosteller and Jaleel White; 91 minutes; Rated PG (for some mild rude humor and language); Written by Kathy Waugh and Megan McDonald; Directed by John Schultz.
If you’re of a certain age – say between 5 and 10 – then the arrival of JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER may well be the movie you’ve been waiting for this season. Adapted from the popular series of children’s books by Megan McDonald, it follows the adventures of the rambunctious Judy (Jordana Beatty) during the summer after third grade.
McDonald, who co-wrote the screenplay with Kathy Waugh, makes no allowance for grown-ups in the audience. This is about how Judy struggles to have the greatest summer ever, even though one friend has left for circus camp and the other is with her mother in Borneo. She and her best friend Frank (Preston Bailey) try to complete a series of “dares” – like riding a roller coaster or attending a scary movie – but something always seems to go wrong.
Even Judy’s younger brother, known as “Stink” (Parris Mosteller), is having more fun as he engages in a search for Bigfoot. To further complicate matters, Judy and her family will not be spending time with her boring paternal grandparents. Instead, Mom and Dad have to go off to California to take care of the other side of the family leaving Judy and Stink under the care of… Aunt Opal.
In a different sort of kids film, Opal would be like Mary Poppins or, heaven help us, Nanny McPhee, teaching all sorts of lessons to the children about how they should be well-behaved and not get into trouble. They would have adventures, but they would be beside the point. Instead, this is a decidedly American sort of movie, like last summer’s “Ramona And Beezus,” where the quirky, artsy, fun-loving aunt shakes things up enough so that there’s plenty of silliness and slapstick and the lessons, while there are some to be gleaned, are almost an afterthought.
It helps that Opal is played by Heather Graham, who has been working steadily for years in largely forgotten films. She brings the right mix of the bohemian and the safe so that Opal comes across as an overgrown kid. For young kids, silly-acting adults can be very funny, especially if they take the concerns of the young characters seriously. No one will confuse her with being an adult authority figure.
The youngsters fall into their cartoonish roles and play it with the earnestness of the elementary school years, where summer vacation seems to last forever and pouting in one’s room is a perfectly appropriate response to things not working out the way you’d like. Young Jordana Beatty makes Judy the star of her own life without becoming obnoxiously egotistical except, perhaps, when Judy’s brother threatens to upstage her.
“Judy Moody” is a cotton candy movie. It’s sweet and colorful, it goes down easily, and where kids can consume gobs and gobs of the stuff, their parents may find a small taste is more than enough.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.