Friday, June 10, 2011

Review of JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER


School is officially over, and summer is starting (though the summer movie season began per usual on the first weekend of May). Based on a popular series of children's books, JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER is one of two films about kids just getting out of school and ready for a summer of adventure. Though this one is clearly aimed at kids, while SUPER 8 is for a wider audience.

I'm not familiar with any of the books, nor has my 7 year old daughter read them yet, but we both went into our screening ready to be entertained. Judy Moody is a free-spirited third grader who comes up with a plan for having a "not bummer" summer. She comes up with a chart on how to get thrill points (like riding a scary rollercoaster, surfing, tightrope walking, etc). The person with the most points at the end of the summer wins. But then her two best friends end up going on vacation for the summer, and her parents unexpectedly have to leave to California leaving loopy Aunt Opal (Heather Graham) to take care of her and her pest of a brother, Stink. Judy's summer is potentially ruined. But of course, it ends up that Opal is super cool (even if she's a crazy dangerous driver) and Judy still has her good friend Frank around. With their help, she tries to rack up as many thrill points as possible.

Like other films about young girls (RAMONA & BEEZUS, and HARRIET THE SPY), this is made strictly for kids. Maybe even more than those other ones. To me it felt like it was actually written and directed by an 8 year old. And you know what? That's why it worked for me. The color scheme is extremely bright, using every color from (and not from) the rainbow in almost every shot. I love how this movie doesn't take place in the real world. It takes place in a stylized kids fantasy. Many characters have goofy hairstyles, outlandish costumes, and funky glasses. The acting is manic and over-the-top. The director chose to shoot much of the film from strange and obtuse angles giving it a tone that isn't real. All of this is done purposely to create a world where grown up stuff doesn't matter. No wars, no politics, no economy bullshit. In this world, kids just want to have fun. The end! It's that kind of innocence and playfulness that won me over.

The cast is pretty good. Newcomer Jordana Beatty makes a worthy lead as Judy. She's tough, smart, and knows who she is. Her Bigfoot obsessed little brother Stink is played by Parris Mosteller, and he's very good at playing that annoying brother (or cousin) many of us grew up with. Heather Graham is the flighty Aunt Opal. She's really into arts and crafts and I think it's great for kids to see a character like this. Jaleel White (Urkel from Family Matters) plays Judy's school teacher, and he has a fun playfulness to him.

The movie doesn't throw sophisticated jokes in to appeal to parents, this is for the kids. Adults who may find themselves bored have most likely lost their inner child. Most adults have. I have not, and was completely enchanted by it. The script is pretty episodic, but it fits with the story. We go from one scene to the next as Judy tries to get Thrill points. Some of the pay offs don't necessarily work (the rollercoaster puking scene should have been bigger), but the spirit of the film is always fun. I love the use of animated sequences to show Judy's imagination, and I got a kick out of when the kids go to a scary movie marathon, which the movie within-a-movie is a spoof of 50's B-horror films (look for Eric Stoltz in a quick cameo). I thought the final act, when they focus on finding bigfoot, lags for a moment or two, but then quickly comes back for a bright and sunny conclusion.

This film doesn't have the emotional impact like RAMONA or HARRIET did, but it's a fun, imaginative movie that is terrific for young kids. I think it encourages children to celebrate creativity. We don't get enough movies like this. It almost feels like a Robert Rodriguez kids film (like SHORTS), with it's endless energy and bold filmmaking. Don't listen to all of the other critics on this one (they're a bunch of old coots who have forgotten what it was like to be a kid), because in a summer of mostly duds so far, I would say that JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER is a joyous movie that embraces being immature.

*** (out of ****)

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