Review- Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer

Garrett Ryan and Jordana Beatty in Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (Relativity Media)

The first thing I have to say and I mean this in all honesty is that this film is nowhere near as bad as I feared it would be, however, it’s still not very good at all sadly. It’s not the worst film in the history of the medium and not even of the year, however, a lot of its issues were so correctable it makes it quite a frustrating venture.

Secondly, I feel I should state that my dislike for this film does not stem, as it seems to for some, from the mere fact that it’s a children’s film. I have frequently had films from the genre in my year-end best films list and some have had staying power like Max Keeble’s Big Move. So I can accept a film with a younger target audience if done properly. This isn’t.

The characterization across the board is rather thin. It’s acceptable, in my mind, to have parents be something of a caricature in a children’s film so long as they at certain points reflect actual parents. In their limited screen time Judy’s parents get a rare chuckle but have the aloofness of glue sniffers about them and more parenting, though not quite enough, is done by “crazy” Aunt Opal.

Then there’s Judy, of course, with the not-so-subtle surname of Moody. She is beyond moody, however, and rather a pain in the posterior.

The universe of this film is a very strange one wherein Judy, while not the “popular girl” does have her own cabal of friends yet she has her own distinct vocabulary that no one really adopts despite the fact that she’s clearly the alpha of the group. She leads a club and the only thing we really see her impress on her friends is the concept of a thrill points race to try and make summer “less boring.”

After one attempt to earn thrill points you quickly see what the resolution of the film will be and what she needs more than anything is an attitude adjustment. However, this uptightness is not called out for far too long and when one of her friends does call her out she doesn’t come to realize the error of her ways herself or get the nudge from her loci parentis. Instead the epiphany comes in a photo montage accompanied by lazy voice over.

Granted some of her feelings of inadequacy are exacerbated by the fact that two of her best friends are far off having a thrill a minute but still the singularity of her focus gets a bit annoying without more challenges to her perception.

However, the singularity is preferable to shoehorned subplots. The Bigfoot subplot works and gives Stink, her brother, his own obsession and plays into her modus operandi just fine. The one that doesn’t is that of the teacher, Mr. Todd (Jaleel White, yes, from Family Matters, who is difficult to accept in any other role). The issue with this subplot is how it is thrown in the mix. It starts with an awkward last day of school scene where his summer plans are made mysterious and hints are dropped through an even more awkward and ill-fitting sing-along. It also dovetails very annoyingly at the climax, so annoyingly that I could go on about that alone for quite some time.

There is an excessive use of animated graphics and titles in the film but while some actually work few do and none are as awkward as the sing-along.

My feelings about the parents as characters is lower than my opinion of their performance. Heather Graham does a lot to keep this film from wallowing into oblivion. Paradoxically by being a comedic oddball character she keeps it grounded and fun as much as she can. Judy’s brother (Parris Mosteller) and friends (Preston Bailey, Garrett Ryan and Taylar Hender) all contribute greatly and do quite well in their parts especially Bailey, whose fight with Judy is the best scene such that it’s almost as if it was taken from another film.

The most impressive thing Jordana Beatty does is lose her Australian accent. Her task is a difficult one in as much as she has to be annoying yet sympathetic and that doesn’t come across. I will grant that she was handcuffed by the script in some regards but the end result is insufficient.

This film is based on a series of books and considering that there’s much material to pull from I wouldn’t rule out Judy’s big screen return, pending its box office, I also wouldn’t write the films off. Yes, this film failed and miserably so but the parts of there in terms of concept and most of the cast but the vehicle was wrong. The actors given a different script may yield different results.


Review- Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Carla Gugino, Maxwell Perry Cotton, Madeline Carroll and Jim Carrey in Mr. Popper's Penguins (20th Century Fox)

You may not be expecting much when walking into a film like Mr. Popper’s Penguins. While it certainly won’t blow anyone away it does have some surprises in store and it really is quite good.

There is a quick backstory montage with some flashes that establishes who our protagonist is and what his relationship with his father was like. This sets up our expectations for what he will be like as a grown man. While this set up can have us assuming certain things how they come about is a bit unexpected.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film is Jim Carrey’s performance. Here you get what I call a hybrid of his two very distinctive styles, both of which I like. It’s a homogenization of his over-the-top comedy and his dramatic persona much more so than Liar Liar, which is very much the former.

This film also sets up several standard situations but avoids trapping the film in overly-familiar gags and goes about things differently. There are Needing to be Two Places at Once, Apparent Defeat and Ulterior Complications that are to an extent necessary and accepted handled briskly and with a twist such that they’re not stale.

This film by doing those stock things in a slightly more inventive, fresher way does end up being rather funny. There is a good dose of slapstick and verbal comedy thrown into the mix such that it’s balanced.

Comedy aside it is a family film and so the family unit has to be strong in terms of performance and chemistry and this film does that perfectly. Aside from Carrey you have Carla Gugino as his ex-wife and Madeline Carroll and Maxwell Perry Cotton as his children. Though she’s played other roles Gugino since Spy Kids is the prototypical uber-mom charming and appealing to all ages. The kids have very different tasks and handle them brilliantly: Carroll as a teenage girl whose emotions are always teetering on the edge and Cotton who plays the younger brother wise beyond his years. They make fantastic foils and allow Carrey to play drama and comedy at times simultaneously.

The children and the family story ultimately bring out the biggest surprise in that while packaged as a goofy animal film it is a sweet, heartfelt story.

While his dialogue does get a bit repetitive the film does adequately turn the man from the zoo into a serviceable villain. There are also secondary threats to the penguins conditions that never over-intrude but make their presence known.

The CG work that’s done, when it’s needed, in this film is also well-rendered and never too obvious.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is one of the better surprises I’ve had at the movies in while. Which just goes to show that just as you can’t judge a book by its cover you can’t judge a film by its trailer (or its poster for that matter).