Movie Review: Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (PG)


judymoodyKernel Rating (out of 5): half-popcorn-kernal

Length: 91 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

Age Appropriate for: 5+. I’m not exactly sure why the movie is PG — it has some potty humor and a few gross-out scenes with vomit and animal excrement, but there’s nothing truly inappropriate or offensive. The monster Bigfoot plays a role, but his “shadow” may only scare super-young children who are profoundly afraid of the dark.

‘Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer’ revolves around a brazenly frustrating character who doesn’t appreciate her family and friends until the end of the flick. By that point, you’ll probably be asleep.

By Roxana Hadadi

The worst part of being an adult is not getting a summer vacation. Sure, taxes are bad too — but getting robbed of three months off is undeniably the ultimate slap in a grown-up’s face.

That time spent lounging around, playing outside and reading stacks of books is one of the best parts of youth. If I’m jealous of children for any reason, it’s because for nearly 100 days out of every year, they get to relish the wonderfulness of doing absolutely nothing, or absolutely everything, depending on whatever they want. Remember when Mel Gibson yells for “Freedom!” during “Braveheart”? That’s basically my battle cry for summertime.

But despite being a children’s movie about the simplistic joys of those school-free months, “Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer” falls pretty flat in conveying the requisite sheer glee. The main character here is obsessed with quantifying the fun she had during her summer, proving how great it was in “thrill points,” instead of actually getting out there and living life. She’s like a compact version of the narrator from “Fight Club,” defined by the numerical value she gives her experiences instead of the real memories she made along the way. Tyler Durden railed against consumerism and how we end up being owned by our “things”; little Judy Moody (Jordana Beatty) allows a little diagram and made-up “points” to take over her psyche.

Judy is so unoriginal that at one point she seriously considers a relative’s suggestion of, “Let’s Google fun!” She thinks expensive trips and sleep-away camps are the only paths to gratification. She’s the kind of girl who will grow up to be a teenager busily documenting her parties, prom and graduation through countless pictures that will immediately be uploaded onto Facebook. Not for her personal amusement, of course, but as a desperate flaunt to others: “Look at me! … Please?” No thanks, Judy Moody. I’ll pass.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh on a children’s movie — based on a series of books by Megan McDonald, who also writes a series based on Judy’s brother, Stink — that ultimately tries to redeem its character by having her realize, in Grinch-like fashion, the real meaning of summer, just like the crotchety green guy realized the importance of Christmas. But I refuse to let our society condone bratty kids who blame their parents for not being wealthy enough to provide them with a pricey vacation, who steal ideas from their siblings and who ply others for affection and attention.

I know that children don’t understand all the problems of the real world, and that’s fine. Being innocent and naïve comes along with being young, and expecting a children’s movie character to act less like Paris Hilton and more like Mother Teresa is a poor dream. But I’m taking a small stand, and it’s against “Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer” — and not just because it’s a dreary, plodding film. Instead, both kids (and the parents paying for their tickets and snacks) deserve to invest time with characters that are more realistic, genuine and appreciative than this “heroine” ever is.

Judy is a slightly manic, slightly weird third-grader who refuses to spend another summer simply visiting her grandmother. On the last day of school, her teacher Mr. Todd (Jaleel White, making me miss “Family Matters”) challenges his students to find him during vacation, and Judy decides she’ll do it. But Judy is also focused on making this summer as great as possible, so she shares with her three best friends (all members of the TP Club, or Toad Pee Club, which is pretty gross) her plan: Each of them will do a dare, such as riding a wave or going on a roller coaster, that is worth 10 thrill points. Extra points will be awarded for flair or deducted for lameness, and the first person to reach 100 thrill points wins, proving they had the “best” and most “thrill-adelic” summer.

But Judy’s friend Rocky (Garrett Ryan) is going to spend the summer at an exclusive circus camp, while other friend Amy (Taylar Hender) will be traveling to Borneo with her mother to save a “lost tribe” on the brink of collapse thanks to excessive foresting in the island. (That’s an interesting idea that could have been discussed further to pique children’s interest, but alas, it’s dropped quite soon.) Only Judy, her brother Stink (Parris Mosteller) and her nerdy friend Frank (Preston Bailey) are staying home; even the Moody parents are leaving town, traveling to California for a family medical emergency.

Left to care for Judy and Stink is their Aunt Opal (Heather Graham), a “guerilla artist” who was in the Peace Corps and has since traveled the world. (Again, an interesting plot point, but all it means is that Opal wears ethnic jewelry and does yoga.) As the days, weeks and months pass, it’s up to Judy to avoid Stink, who has become obsessed with catching Bigfoot, and to bag some thrill points so she doesn’t fall behind Rocky and Amy, who constantly email her pictures of their adventures. She hates them, she wishes she were with them, and she’s consumed with jealousy at every turn — so much so that not even Opal’s goofy shenanigans, like making messy art projects all throughout the Moodys’ clean house, can cheer her up.

But who would want to make Judy feel better, anyway? I remember sulking as a child, vowing to spend forever in my room to spite my parents. That was a passing phase for everyone — but with Judy, crankiness and bossiness seem to be her only real defining traits. How someone so consumed with appearances and showing up others has any friends at all is a mystery, especially given how she treats Frank (who is like Neville Longbottom in the “Harry Potter” series, messing up often but truly good-hearted) and never apologizes for her actions. And there’s no believable narrative to her regret and redemption: Finally she seems to get that her summer may not have been such a bummer after all, but the few scenes provided of her admitting that fact don’t make up for all the prior annoyingness. What is this film telling children, that you can whine, brood and be awful to others until you eventually get your way, and then you can still be cranky and condescending? I’m pretty sure that’s not the most positive thing to tell impressionable youth.

There’s some interesting animation during Judy’s daydreams, but those few scenes reek of poor CGI and aren’t visually dazzling enough to be memorable. “Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer” is rated PG, and has some gross gags involving vomit and animal feces and urine, as well as some scary-for-really-young-viewers scenes involving Bigfoot and his shadow. What’s more frightening, though, is the idea that anyone could really believe Judy Moody is an effective role model. That’s just wrong.