Bad Aura For ‘Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer’

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Films based on children’s book series can’t all be good. The law of averages eventually catches up to the literary moppets who turn their charms towards the big screen. Case in point, the below average “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer.”

The film is all sticky, cutesy poo (literally) that is as welcome this summer as a mosquito at a barbecue. Strangely cast in the film is Heather Graham, as free-spirited Aunt Opal, acting much as she did when she shed her clothing as Rollergirl in “Boogie Nights.” And the hyper-caffeinated Judy Moody is stuck in overdrive through Jordana Beatty’s performance, a child actor least likely to evolve to a post adolescent career.

Nine-year old Judy Moody (Beatty) is looking forward to the best summer ever. She fidgets through the last day of third grade, when teacher Mr. Todd (Jaleel White) establishes his yearly “Find Mr. Todd” contest for the vacation period. The bell rings, and the madness of the end of term erupts, with Judy gathering her three best friends together to plan the not bummer summer.

But there is bad news. Two of her friends are off to amazing adventures, one to circus camp and another to Indonesia (no joke). That leaves Judy with only her nerdy pal Frank (Preston Bailey) to complete her complicated style chart, which chronicles summer adventures by awarding “thrill points.” Depressed because she thinks the system is ruined, Judy has to re-tool everything in order to conquer even the simplest of those thrills.

Aunt Opal (Heather Graham) and Judy Moody (Jordana Beatty) Bond in ‘Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer’
Aunt Opal (Heather Graham) and Judy Moody (Jordana Beatty) Bond in ‘Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer’
Photo credit: Relativity Media

Complicating matters is that Judy’s parents (Kristoffer Winters and Janet Varney) have to tend to a sick relative over the summer, leaving Judy with her brother Stink (Parris Mosteller) with her Aunt Opal (Graham). The flighty, hippie-esque Opal teaches Judy, Stink and Frank a new type of freedom, one that involves reckless driving and art projects that spill onto the lawn. Maybe it will be a not so bummer summer after all.

Based on the book series by Megan McDonald, who also wrote the screenplay, Judy Moody is one of those wish fulfillment characters that brashly takes on life and spews hackneyed catch phrases (”rare!”) while living in some kind of Americana heaven. Her house conveniently backs into a woodsy creek, where the nine year old adventurer walks a tightrope over the water unsupervised. No helicopter parents in the Moody household.

The story feels like a one page treatment onerously stretched to fill the movie length run time. The basic premise of having a fun summer is padded with the creepy teacher search, aunts who can’t drive (while the kids wear no seat belts, ha-ha) and the search for Bigfoot. Yes, Bigfoot. The creature hoax that was debunked in the 1970s is resurrected by McDonald as some sort of boogeyman slash idol through which the kids expend their energies. The adults – especially Rollergirl…er Aunt Opal – go along with this, there is even a society in town that hunts the creature. This extremely uncreative diversion could have worked if the film were a ‘70s nostalgia piece, but as a contemporary legend there was a longing for a kid to expose the hoax with a iPad app download.

The kid actors have a kinetic spirit, to a fault. Jordana Beatty plays Judy like doesn’t trust her own natural vitality, practicing a bi-polar loneliness when things don’t go her way. Director John Schultz gives plenty of close ups to the copper-haired heroine, so we experience her every pout. It was disquieting. Judy’s brother Stink is mental, but no one seems to mind. This gives the screenplay an opportunity to do a feces joke (or poo, as it is called) and have Stink get the most jollies from it.

The adult actors don’t fare any better, with Heather Graham playing Opal as if she were fulfilling a community service sentence. The overseas adventurer she is suppose to be still has time to have perfect hair and make-up, and her irresponsibility in caring for her niece and nephew includes recklessly driving what looks like an antique 1970s station wagon (detecting a theme). Jaleel “Steve Urkel” White plays teacher Mr. Todd so like a creep that it smacks of career sabotage. Only Janet Varney as “Mom” comes off as interesting. She actually looks more alluring than groovy Heather, in a suburban matron sort of way.

Brother Stink (Parris Mosteller) Shares a Meal with Judy and Opal in ‘Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer’
Brother Stink (Parris Mosteller) Shares a Meal with Judy and Opal in ‘Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer’
Photo credit: Relativity Media

These types of storybook kiddie heroes can be done right, like the humorous “Wimpy Kid” films, but Judy Moody’s pinball cartoon effects, bipolar anti-effervescence and flat-out bizarre adult characters don’t contain the same starch. The best children’s comedies – books or films – have universal humor in them. Judy Moody just channels the obvious, and falls back on poo jokes.

It’s hard to imagine a kid loving this girl’s adventures, or wishing they were her, but what does an adult movie critic know from Judy Moody? This might be what the kids want to see, which guarantees that their older film escorts will endure 91 minutes of bummer this summer.

”Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer” opens everywhere June 10th. Featuring Heather Graham, Jaleel White, Jordana Beatty, Parris Mosteller, Preston Bailey, Kristoffer Winters and Janet Varney. Screenplay by Kathy Waugh and Megan McDonald, directed by John Schultz. Rated “PG

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2011 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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