Even though the film's title brings to mind former librarian turned author Beverly Cleary's novel Beezus and Ramona, screenwriters Lori Craig and Nick Pustay ignored that work completely and instead pulled plot points from Ramona Forever, Ramona and Her Father, Ramona and Her Mother, Ramona's World and Ramona Quimby, Age 8.
Needless to say, with that many sources adding to the already immense pressure of bringing Cleary's beloved fifty year book series to life in its first major motion picture adaptation, at times director Elizabeth Allen's Ramona and Beezus feels like it's being pulled in numerous directions at the same time.
From abrupt tonal changes to uneven techniques that initially invite viewers inside the bigger-than-life imagination of the mischievous nine year old Ramona Quimby (Joey King) before Allen thankfully abandons most of the fantastical elements altogether to the screenplay's overly episodic nature, it takes awhile for audiences to completely click with this particular interpretation of Portland's Klickitat Street.
And even though the work struggles with the contradiction of perhaps too little going on in terms of the overall plot while at the same time being bogged down by subplots that cull memorable incidents from throughout Cleary's series, overall like its young heroine who often gets in trouble when her ambitious plans turn to chaos, you just can't help but find yourself smiling warmly because Ramona's heart is in the right place.
Admirably resisting the urge to modernize it all out of proportion with the way the timeless depiction of childhood was articulated in Cleary's vivid prose, Ramona and Beezus nonetheless feels quite contemporary as its central plot concerns the family's uncertain future when Ramona's father Robert (John Corbett) loses his job as a number cruncher and her mother Dorothy (Bridget Moynahan) takes on the temporary role of primary breadwinner by working part time at a doctor's office.
Overhearing a financial disagreement between her parents, Ramona soon fears that the bank will literally take her family home away and although big sister Beezus (Selena Gomez) sets her straight about the house not being rooted from its foundation and put on a truck, Ramona decides that it's time she became the family's hero in a race to make money and keep the bills at bay.
From selling lemonade to going door to door offering car washes, Ramona soon realizes that working is much harder than she'd imagined, especially when the jeep belonging to her neighbor's Uncle Hobart (Josh Duhamel) rolls into the garage during a wash and receives a new, haphazard multi-colored paint job.
Likewise in conquering her fears on the playground so that they'll pay off in the real world when she discovers that she won't have Beezus to keep her safe from boogeymen at night after she gets her own room to talking her sweet Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin) into taking her to audition for a peanut butter commercial, Ramona refuses to give up on her mission to restore Quimby order, even if it means attempting to make it to school on a day when she should be home in bed.
Filled with delightful performances, most notably by supporting scene-stealers Goodwin and Duhamel who are reunited in Ramona after appearing in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton years earlier, more often than not it's the sheer likability of the cast and the sunny demeanor of Cleary wholesome family fun that keeps you entertained.
Of course some of the problems faced by the relatives are admittedly solved far too rapidly such as in a wedding that is somehow planned and carried out without a hitch (save for the main one!) within a day.
However in the end Allen has crafted a bright, hard-to-fault festive celebration of Ramona's World that's sure to appeal particularly to Cleary graduates turned parents and aunts who can't wait to introduce the characters to their children... hopefully in print as well as onscreen in a double feature of the movie as well as a trip to the Beverly Cleary shelf of your local bookstore or library.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I attended a free press screening of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.