The script for Ramona and Beezus wasn't whipped up on a computer. It was poured out of a blender.
Here's the recipe: Take the sisterly love of Little Women, mix it with a bit of drama from Meet Me in St. Louis, then add in some typical kid-flick pratfalls and punch "liquefy." Voila, you've got Ramona and Beezus, the new film starring tween sensation Selena Gomez, 18 , and 10-year-old newcomer Joey King.
If you've read the Beverly Cleary books on which the characters are based, then you know them already. Ramona Quimby (King) is a rambunctious grade-schooler with a vivid imagination. Her sister Beezus (Gomez) is the perfect, all-A's kid who never seems to have a problem — unless Ramona instigates it. Ramona is the one who stuck Beezus with that nickname, because when she was little she couldn't say "Beatrice."
The plot is a series of vignettes knitted together by the sheer force of mischief that is Ramona. Whether she's on the monkey bars imagining herself hanging over a canyon or emptying a tube of toothpaste into the sink, Ramona can hardly contain herself — even when that would be in her best interest. She is like Junie B. Jones on steroids.
When the girls' father (John Corbett) loses his job and their mom (Bridget Moynahan) returns to work, Ramona takes it upon herself to make enough money to keep the family together. She offers to wash the car of a neighbor, but of course everything goes awry. She tries to sell lemonade, but it leads to a rather dramatic spit take. She even auditions for a commercial, which of course ends in disaster. Then Dad gets a job in another town, which means the family will have to move from their beloved house on Klickitat Street and Beezus will lose her sort-of boyfriend, Henry Huggins.
But no need to grab a tissue. In the last 30 minutes, the writers race to wrap up all the loose threads with a contrived water fight, a wedding and a new job for Dad.
Whereas adults will find this all bland and formulaic, it should hit the target audience square in the heart: tween and younger girls who love Gomez and want to escape the din of boy-oriented action flicks (Iron Man 2, A-Team, The Last Airbender). The tween girl who went with me to R&B said she liked it a lot and would recommend it to her friends.
Although Gomez is the star who's drawing in those tweeners, her performance lacks the screwball zip of her Disney Channel show, Wizards of Waverly Place. It's as though the directors told her to dial back her energy level so as not to overshadow her little co-star. King has energy to spare, making us care for Ramona even when she does something that makes you want to put her in time-out for the rest of the movie.
The movie does give a good lesson to girls to be true to themselves even when others are trying to tell them to conform. Unfortunately, Ramona and Beezus takes more after Beezus than Ramona. It wasn't wacky, unpredictable and lots of fun. It was responsible, quiet and a little dull. Maybe next time someone should throw a little flavor into the blender, because this was just plain vanilla.
Sherry Robinson can be reached at (727) 893-8305 or [email protected]