contemporary nostalgia

on

contemplations

on the ofttimes whimsical and ever adorable Ramona and Beezus

by me, L.

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Parents may also be happy to see a movie for children that doesn’t involve wizards, vampires or action figures that can be bought in the food court. They should be warned, though, that the price of contemporary realism is a story that includes layoffs, bickering and unpaid bills. ~Mike Hale in NY Times article “Mismatched Sisters.”

I had heard Ramona and Beezus was being made and that it was coming soon to a theater near me. I had noted the ‘Read before you See it’ program on the Library Calendar. I think some blogs posted the trailer. We didn’t see the trailer until we went to see The Despicable Me (2010). How did I miss it?

Sean and I saw the trailer, looked at each other, and nodded. N leaned over for the nth time during the previews and said, “I wanna see that.” Yes, it looked charming and light-hearted. And I had read the Beverly Cleary books when I was much younger. I even knew that the book title was Beezus and Ramona.

Ramona and Beezus looked sweet—Ramona adorable, Beezus the recognizable Selena Gomez, and ah yes, John Corbett. I had no idea that a major plot point was job loss. “Ah, hell,” was the look Sean and I exchanged when Mr. Quimby (John Corbett) comes home and says “the numbers crunched him.” Sean has been unemployed nearly two years. It is a painful subject.  Similarities were further compounded when it is revealed Mr. Quimby has an Art degree he could never successfully use to support his family. Yep, Sean, too, had to choose practicality over the starving Artist route (though becoming a parent wasn’t the impetus). Sigh.

The unemployment drama was—dramatic. I have to say I feel good that Sean hasn’t yet had to sleep on the couch. But I found the bickering a source of tension that was relatively safe within the scope of the film. The Film was able to talk about real outcomes, but the affection depicted between the parents (before the loss) didn’t cause all out panic. When Susan mentions to Ramona that her family went through job loss and a subsequent divorce, Ramona worries (this and the couch and the arguing). Despite the turmoil, Ramona-caused or not, the world holds steady. The world/community feels capable of surviving.

That the world maintains its Goodness in the face of Corporate Evil—the dad works as a vice president for someone—is important to the audience.  That the community comes to the Quimby’s aid (namely Ms. Meacham—Quimby rescuer extraordinaire) is an even more important statement. Mr. Quimby will not have to move away from Portland (which is a suck thing to do; as I can personally attest) to take a job in his field (thus returning to the Corporate Lair). Instead, with help from his community, Mr. Quimby can be true to himself and his family by doing the lesser paying Art job offered to him at the end of the film.

Beezus helps Ramona look just right for Picture Day at school.

Note the projection of Ramona’s image prettied and thus normalized onto older sister Beezus. Ramona needs to change to be less “difficult” and with sister’s help would look more “acceptable” like Beezus is seen to be by the outside world.

The sisters, Beezus and Ramona. They look just different enough to make visual distinctions about their characters. Regardless, they are hardly mismatched. Beezus is just older. I was relieved that the over-acting-at-the-top-of-your-lungs often witnessed on a Disney Channel Show was not perpetrated in Selena Gomez’s Beezus character. Actually, I think she did a fine job finding a way to quietly develop her character with Joey King’s Ramona on stage. It didn’t hurt that Beezus’ problems were not unlike Ramona’s. Both sisters just want to be able to be themselves and feel loved while doing so. Like their father, making accommodations for others just doesn’t seem to work. Avoiding who you could be (ala Aunt Bea/Ginnifer Goodwin with her beau Hobart/Josh Duhamel) just delays the inevitable—so the way things seem to work out.

The film is not implying a body could be unhappy pursuing Societal Proclivities. Both Aunt Bea and Hobart are more mature and better prepared to enter a new relationship together. The Quimby’s were not unhappy at the opening of the film while dad was working in the corporate world. Beezus appears to have it all, good-looks, good-grades, popularity. I’m not sure, “it was all a façade,” is a line any could use—except maybe Beezus who says she wants someone who can really see her, who really knows her. Everyone longs to remember who they were, when things felt the most true. How can that person fit into the present?—especially when we have the Ramona character who is her “most true” and she has a difficult time negotiating the present. Thankfully, the world is safe enough, and the rewards for taking the risk are positive—in the film. And maybe audience members are made to wonder if their community has enough similarity to the Quimbys’. I can’t decide if the film is hopeful or depressing. I know it is adorable, and I will probably continue thinking it so.

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The now-ten-year-old-daughter took her also-ten-friend to this film and both thought it was good fun. I felt good about her watching it. Few wouldn’t want their child to hear a message that says, being yourself is actually better than the alternatives; that it is actually less soul-eatingly-painful. The bright colors, Ramona’s antics, the outright silliness on everyone’s part is worth the ticket for your older grade-schooler and up.

There were moments for the grown-ups in the audience (yes, grown men could enjoy the film, too). Sean and I especially smiled over Hobart’s accidental unearthing of a mixed tape Bea had made him. Then we laughed outright at the first song, “Eternal Flame” by The Bangles (1989). Another favorite moment was the parents teasing Beezus about her admirer who might ask her to the school dance. Dad notes that the boy wouldn’t be good enough unless he danced like this and proceeds to do an embarrassing sequence of moves. Later, the admirer in question dances the same way—it was sweet. The movie was a sugar fix. And yet, bittersweet just the same.

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Two reputable reviews:  Ebert’s (3 stars) Review and Mike Hale’s NY Times Review “Mismatched Sisters”.

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Ramona and Beezus (2010).

Directed by Elizabeth Allen (who also directed Aquamarine, 2006).

Editing: Jane Moran

Written by Laurie Craid (did Ella Enchanted, 2004), Nick Pustay

Based on Beverly Cleary novels

Director of Photography: John Bailey

Music: Mark Mothersbaugh

Produced by Denise Di Novi and Alison Greenspan

Walden Media/Summit Entertainment; 20th Century Fox

104 minutes. Rated G.

Starring: Joey King (Ramona), Selena Gomez (Beezus), John Corbett (Robert Quimby), Bridget Moynahan (Dorothy Quimby), Ginnifer Goodwin (Aunt Bea), Josh Duhamel (Hobart), Sandra Oh (Mrs. Meacham).

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Melanie Winters says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful review, Leslie. I know that feeling of film intersecting with life. At the end of Toy Story 3, when the mom and son were standing in the empty room, I started bawling so hard. I remember standing with Glen in his empty bedroom two years ago. I had a clear understanding that it was the beginning of the end of his childhood and the role I had in his life up to that point.
    Have you seen Where the Wild Things Are? We just watched it and it really got to me. Our society can be so hard on boys. At school, I see boys acting out their emotions with their bodies over and over.
    Hope your move goes well.
    Love you.

    1. L says:

      yeah, we cried during Toy Story 3 also…and after the film, N (with the anticipated move) sorted her toys in similar piles, and generously put most in the give away (and a few I snuck into my cache). I hope when I stand in that empty room when Natalya moves down the street to University I will know I did as good a job with her as you and Dale have done with Glenn.

      As for Where the Wild Things Are, we went and saw that right away (counting the days); I really enjoyed their reading of it. I’ve since read the novel, The Wild Things by Dave Eggers (who co-wrote the screenplay). You would probably like it. A link to my write-up on the book.

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