Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Review: "Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer"
I am several decades too old to truly enjoy "Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer." It's aimed at a slightly older kids, after Barney becomes lame but before Lady Gaga is cool, when boys and girls can still be friends without a lot of icky hormones and complications.
Based on the books by Megan McDonald (who co-wrote the screenplay with Kathy Waugh), the movie does a nice job of capturing what it's like to be a kid that age -- parents conspiring to stifle all fun, the ache of separation from friends, and the worst curse in existence is having a snotty younger brother hogging all the attention.
Newcomer Jordana Beatty winsomely plays Judy, a red-headed ball of spunk who's determined to not let this summer be the borefest of previous years. She and her friends start a contest to see who can have the most adventurous summer, and the winner gets ... well, they get to be the winner! It is the sad lot of grown-ups that they must dimly recall when just winning was enough to justify a game.
I pause this review to note there are many education experts who want to get rid of kids' summer breaks and hold school year-round (or, more accurately, carve the vacation up into smaller chunks spread throughout the year). It is my considered opinion that these fine folks, despite their undeniably good intentions about improving academic performance, are dangerously misguided poopyheads.
There are many reasons to preserve the grand tradition of children (and teachers) having a large block of time every year to pursue interests other than schoolwork, not the least of which is this: If you look at the best stories and movies about childhood, by and large the critical events usually happen during the summer.
From "To Kill a Mockingbird" to "Stand By Me," these tales show that we develop into the people we are not by sitting in a classroom, but during our adventures outside of them. Education is a critical but hardly solitary factor in how we grow up.
Soliloquy over, back to this movie.
Judy is too caught up in her own concerns to realize that her parents (Janet Varney and Kristoffer Winters) are terrific. When they announce plans to cancel the annual summer trip to grandma's -- which moments earlier Judy had been expressing her dread about -- Judy goes into conniptions. How unfair: An entire summer with just her appropriately-named brother, Stink (Paris Mosteller), and the aunt she barely remembers.
The aunt, Opal, turns out not be the stodgy old lady smelling of mothballs we might imagine from her name. She's actually a super-nice artistic hippie type played by Heather Graham. Yes, I know it seems not that long ago Graham was playing a high-schooler in "Boogie Nights," but she's in her 40s now and playing aunts in childrens movies. Time marches on.
Judy is president of the TP Club -- the initials don't stand for what you think ... it's worse -- and comes up with a great plan to have everyone track "Thrill Points" over the summer. Then she learns her two closest friends, Rocky (Garrett Ryan) and Amy (Taylar Hender), are jetting off to have super-cool summers in a circus school and Borneo, respectively.
That means Judy is left with Frank (Preston Bailey), the low man on the TP totem pole. Judy's attempts to collect Thrill Points are continually confounded by the weak-kneed Frank, who pukes on roller coasters and runs screaming from a monster double-feature at the local cinema.
As a side gig, Judy is occasionally forced into the orbit of Stink, who's become obsessed with finding and capturing Bigfoot. How totally lame, how first-grade, how ... wait, what was that sound in the woods?
"Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer" was directed by John Schultz in a quick-paced, straightforward manner that fits the material. No, this is not top-notch family entertainment in the realm of "Toy Story 3" or "How to Train Your Dragon" -- movies to be enjoyed as much by parents as tykes. But if it is narrow in its appeal, then the movie is earnest about entertaining a certain strata of kid-dom who will appreciate it more than I.
2.5 stars out of four