Directed by: John Shultz
Premise: An adaptation of the book series by Megan McDonald. When school breaks for summer, third grader Judy Moody devises a plan to have the most exciting summer ever but constantly finds her plans thwarted.
What Works: Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is unabashedly a children’s movie. Its intended audience is under thirteen years of age and the film views much like the live action programming on the Nickelodeon network. The filmmaking of Judy Moody has a childlike energy and its cinematography and editing recall the early work of Tim Burton like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice. Jordana Beatty plays Judy Moody and she carries the film, playing her scenes with a constant off-the-wall energy and delivering heaps of tongue-twisting dialogue by the mouthful. The surprising performance in Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is Heather Graham as Judy’s Aunt Opal. Graham has usually been seen in films for older audiences like Bowfinger and The Hangover and to see her in this film is a surprise. Graham plays the loopy aunt pretty well, even though the film does not give her much to do.
What Doesn’t: There is a common dismissal of children’s films by critics and by the press. The presumption says that since these films are intended for children our expectations of them should be lower. It may be that films for children need to be less complicated, be more direct in their storytelling, and deal with difficult subject matter more gently. However, this should not be taken as a license for lousy filmmaking. While Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is not lousy, it is forgettable. The story is made of isolated episodes that are not connected to one another and none of the adventures that Judy sets herself upon are particularly interesting, funny, or meaningful. Neither Judy nor her brother (Parris Mosteller) or her aunt grow as characters between the beginning and ending of the film. In a way, Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is a lot like an elongated episode of a television sitcom; it introduces a token conflict and resolves it in a way that maintains everything fundamental about the story and its characters so that a new token conflict can be introduced next time. That seems to be what Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is doing: introducing characters that it can spin off into a franchise of future movies and television shows. But it is doubtful that anyone, even children, will feel a significant enough attachment or engagement with these characters to want to continue viewing their stories.
Bottom Line: Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is like watching any given live action program on the Nickelodeon network. This is a film that might be worth a rental or function as an afternoon distraction for the kids but it is not worth the time and expense of taking a family to a theater to see it.
Episode: #344 (June 19, 2011)