If Ramona, the spirited third-grader at the center of "Ramona and Beezus," gave a one-word review of the movie about her love/hate relationship with her big sister, Beatrice, she would say that it was "terrifical."
Like the beloved Beverly Cleary books that inspired it, Elizabeth Allen's captivating film shows what the world looks like from the perspective of a scrappy 9-year-old who is neither as fearless as she thinks nor as hopeless as others peg her.
"Ramona and Beezus" is not for girls only. It boasts a daddy/daughter plot line that is very touching.
Set in contemporary Portland, Ore., but also in the timeless universe of family dynamics, "R and B" is blessed with young actresses who resemble actual kids and not motormouth moppets on TV sitcoms.
Beezus Quimby is perpetually irritated that Ramona steals her sunshine. Ramona is perpetually annoyed that she can't escape her sister's long shadow.
As Beezus, Selena Gomez (the Harriet Potterish teen on Disney's "The Wizards of Waverly Place") nicely plays an anxious high-schooler, a straight-A student exasperated by Ramona's hyperactive imagination. Ramona (Joey Lewis, refreshingly natural) feels bad because everything Beezus does is right and everything she does is wrong. Can this sisterhood be saved?
Their sibling rivalry takes a back burner to bigger family issues. When Dad (John Corbett) gets downsized and Mom (Bridget Moynahan) can get only part-time work, the sisters have to pull together despite the stuff that divides them. Will they lose the house? And have to move?
Director Allen, whose previous film was the uninspired mermaid saga "Aquamarine," tells the Quimbys' story gracefully. She elicits remarkably honest performances from her younger stars.
Ramona finds support in her sympathetic aunt (Ginnifer Goodwin), herself a younger sister, who has grown up in the shadow of an older sibling.
The overall tone of the film is sunny, with Ramona and Beezus resiliently turning life's lemons into lemonade. Dad may lose his job — but he finds his vocation. Ramona and Beezus may resent their differences, but learn to treasure them — not as flaws, but as strengths.