Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer Review

Jun 09, 2011 | 6:26pm EDT

Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer is based on a bestselling series of children’s books by librarian-turned-author Megan McDonald. I've read none of the books but over 14 million copies of them have been sold to date which leads me to believe there must be some fundamental appeal to them. Whatever it is none of it is to be found in this grating adaptation. For kids Judy Moody is at best a harmless diversion; for adults it’s 90 minutes of cinematic purgatory.

The film stars Jordana Beatty as the title character a precocious nine-year-old whose wildly unkempt hair hobo-rainbow wardrobe and zany portmanteaus like “supercalifragilisticexpithrilladelic” are meant to convey creativity and independence but more persuasively hint at a future of padded cells and four-point restraints. When the school term ends Judy prepares for three months of unbridled fun but her plans are derailed when two of her best friends Rocky (Garrett Ryan) and Amy (Taylar Hender) announce that they are leaving for the summer. Judy’s summer prospects further diminish when her parents decamp to California to tend to an ailing grandfather leaving behind her eccentric Aunt Opal (Heather Graham convincingly crazy) a vagabond free spirit with an interest in “guerrilla art ” to supervise in their stead.

If there’s a point to any of this director John Schultz (Aliens in the Attic) doesn’t articulate it. The film’s oblique narrative revolves around an arbitrary contest of Judy’s design in which she and her three friends compete for “thrill points” by completing various activities like riding a roller coaster or walking a tightrope. The exact stakes of the contest if there are any are never made clear giving us little incentive to care about how any of it turns out. Little matter – each activity is really just a catalyst for some lame gag the culmination of which usually involves unwanted contact with a) feces b) vomit or c) an artificial substance of equivalent unpleasantness. Vaudevillian sound design punctuates each tedious punchline heightening our collective discomfort.

Schultz’s directorial style is one of aggressive whimsy making abundant use of canted angles extreme close-ups acid-trip set design CG pop-ups animated interludes an omnipresent score that all but shouts “mischief afoot ” and Urkel. Judy Moody was clearly made with minimal funding with the bulk of said funds devoted to achieving its aesthetic of benign creepiness. One can only imagine how much the film might have been improved if a portion of its budget had been allocated to say a second draft of the script or more than one take for each scene. Bummer.

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