Book heroine strays off the page
By Sandie Angulo Chen
Friday, June 10, 2011
With summer comes theaters filled with superheroes, sequels and forgettable family fare. In the last category, we find “Judy Moody.”
This flimsy, live-action children’s book adaptation follows the titular, tomboyish third-grader (Jordana Beatty) dealing with a summer vacation bereft of her two best friends (one’s off to Borneo with her journalist mother; the other’s decamped to circus camp). Judy’s plan for the summer — which becomes the bare thread holding this movie together — involves a “NOT Bummer Summer” chart that tracks all the adventures she and a remaining friend hope to accomplish before fall. The first person to 100 “thrill points” wins.
Judy must perform her feats while stuck at home with her oddball younger brother Stink (Parris Mosteller) and her long-lost Aunt Opal (Heather Graham), a free-spirited artist who has traveled the world but can’t make a proper meal or remember how to drive. Every time Judy receives a postcard or e-mail from her far-flung friends, she tries — without much success — to accomplish something boast-worthy, such as riding a roller-coaster without holding on or walking a tightrope across two trees.
If these tasks don’t seem too boast-worthy as you read this, they’re not much more exciting when you see them on screen. Director John Schultz (“Aliens in the Attic”) tries but fails to keep the attention of anyone older than 8. It’s a shame, really, because Judy Moody, in the boisterous spirit of Pippi Longstocking and Ramona Quimby, is a chapter-book protagonist who’s hard not to love. In print, Judy is creative and curious and “totally awesome,” but everything that makes her a joy in Megan McDonald’s books makes her surprisingly annoying on screen. The book’s extravagantly long phrases that are such a delight to read aloud (“Mega Total Super Seriously”) sound obnoxious when delivered by Beatty.
Judy isn’t the kind of young heroine a movie audience roots for no matter how hard Beatty tries. And that’s because the story doesn’t offer much of a satisfying journey. Judy’s not battling an evil wizard, a menacing older brother or the school’s social hierarchy. She’s just trying to force herself to have a better summer than her friends. It’s not exactly the stuff of legend. . . or even the laughable adventures of a Wimpy Kid.
The humor is basic (blue vomit, poop sandwiches, hands glued to tables), even by elementary-school standards. The ’tween slapstick will elicit the stray laugh but only from the youngest filmgoers.
A subplot centered on Judy’s teacher Mr. Todd holds no interest, except that a grown-up Jaleel White, a.k.a. Steve Urkel, plays him. And while Graham nails the ethereal aunt who amuses her charges by building a giant papier-mache Big Foot on the lawn or decorating garbage-can lid hats, she can’t make this movie NOT a bummer.
Some may question why the studios would release such a mediocre, uninspired kid movie just when school lets out. But if nothing else, “Judy Moody” offers parents an excuse to nap in air-conditioned comfort.
Contains mild rude humor and language.