Super 8; Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer
Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer
by Martin R. "Vargo" Schneider
EXPECTATIONS: After two weeks of working from home, I was excited to get back to the theater again. I entered the dimly lit Current Releases offices expecting at least a "Welcome back!", but alas the room was empty. ProfessorClumsy was hiding in the editing room, Smythe had been sent back to the institution yet again, and Jay Dub was at the PTSD-support group he has been attending since Marmaduke.
"Hey, what movie am I doing this week?" I yelled, and Clumsy called back "Check the bloody chart!" I turned and saw a brand new whiteboard we'd never had before, upon which was drawn a simple flowchart titled "Who Sees What?" I started at the first box, asking the question "Do Marty or Joe actually want to see this movie?" I followed the arrow marked YES until it ended in a box labeled "Ian." Of course. Taking the NO route this time, the next box asked "Is it a kid's movie?" Following YES again, the third box asked "Talking Animals?" Well, obviously I knew where YES would lead me, so that meant the only other option was... aw, crap.
REALITY: Judy Moody makes me want to punch a child. I guess, specifically, that child is Judy Moody. Let's make this clear: I am a fan of movies that are unashamedly for kids. I vastly prefer these films to the Shrek-style "Let's shoehorn in some pop-culture references and an odd alcohol joke so that parents can watch it too!" method of pandering. For example, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is incredibly entertaining. Judy Moody, adapted from a series of children's books by the same name, tries very hard to be Diary of a Wimpy Kid for girls, but instead it's just Judy Moody for terrible children.
The story follows our titular heroine Judy (Jordanna Beatty), a red-haired fourth grader who wants to have a great summer, because she lives in suburban Virginia, and is eight years old, and has nothing to do. She comes up with a list of things to do with her friends, but it turns out that they're going to be away for the summer. One girl is going to Borneo with her mother, who is some sort of journalist, and another, Judy's best friend Rocky (Garret Ryan), is going away to Circus Camp. (Wait, Circus Camp? That's not a thing that children do, is it? What child in his right mind goes out of his way to spend more time around clowns?) The Moody parents are then called away for convenient plot reasons, and Judy's hippy Aunt Opal (Heather Graham) comes to watch the kids. There are also two subplots, one about Judy's little brother Stink (Pariss Mosteller) trying to catch Bigfoot, and another about the kids trying to find their teacher Mr. Todd (Jaleel White. Yeah, that Jaleel White) to earn a prize. There is a lot of stuff going on here, and none of it really seems to have anything to do with anything else that's happening.
Let's start with the film's first problem, which is that Judy is a pretty unlikable character. Whereas Diary of a Wimpy Kid's Greg Heffley is endearing because he just wants to coast through life in the background and the world won't let him, Judy is obnoxiously trying to be the center of everything. She starts a competition with her friends to see who can have the most fun by earning "thrill points." Thrill points are assigned in much the same way we at Current Releases assign numbers to movies -- that is, in a completely arbitrary fashion -- and yet she still keeps assigning herself zeros. That's it. That's the movie's only conflict, and it is entirely self-created.
This wouldn't be so bad if Judy herself weren't so annoying. Remember how people complained about Juno because no 16-year-old girl actually talks like that? It's even more ridiculous coming from a third grader. I know third graders, man. If any third grader ever actually referred to anything as "super-uber-thrill-alicious," that kid is getting pushed off the monkey bars. When Frank (Preston Baily), the one friend she has left, tries to help her on her quest (which, I'd like to remind you, literally no one is making her do), she constantly berates him and tells him how much better the other friends are. Y'know, the kid at freakin circus camp. The movie occasionally breaks into computer-animated segments that represent Judy's fantasies, nearly all of which involve her becoming successful by hurting everyone around her. And they say kids movies aren't realistic.
The jokes in this film come mainly from things like vomit, animal pee, and the near-consumption of feces. Gross-out humor is a staple of the children's comedy genre, but the kids in my theater weren't laughing. If anything, they just seemed confused and bored. Visually, the film just throws out so many bright colors and flashy blurry objects, I felt like I developed ADHD within the first ten minutes. This is the cinematic equivalent of a piņata at a birthday party. Blindfold a sugar-hyped kid, spin her around real fast and then film whatever happens after that. It's not even really a movie, because movies have narratives. This is just a series of things happening that are only marginally related to each other by the thinnest of plotlines.
Because there is no real sense of containment in this universe, things take a turn for the bizarre every once in a while, and then revert back to what they call "normal" at basically any second. This is a movie where Steve Urkel plays the banjo and drives Bigfoot around in an ice cream truck. I know that sounds awesome, but trust me, it's not. If someone told me Judy Moody was actually a Dadaist prank on the film industry, I would applaud it as brilliant. As is, I'm forced to assume that there's a missing scene halfway through the film in which Judy finds Aunt Opal's special mushrooms, and the rest of the film is what she sees as a result.
Speaking of Aunt Opal, I guess Heather Graham is a good choice to play the "Cool Aunt," but I can't tell you for certain because she doesn't really do anything. There's no heart-to-heart discussion, no life-changing moment, not even a "way to go, kid." Nothing happens in this movie that couldn't be done with a Mom and Dad character, but it gives Heather Graham another opportunity to remind people that she's not dead, that was Brittany Murphy. In fact, having Aunt Opal around doesn't change a damn thing, because Judy learns literally nothing. Most of the time you can walk out of a kid's movie and say "The message of that film was ____" but with Judy Moody, I was stumped. It's my job to come up with this stuff, and I got nothing. I don't know how the film's target audience is supposed to do it.
Judy Moody was basically everything I hate about kid's films rolled into one. Hell, they don't even have the decency to wait until the end of the movie to have the dance party. There are a handful of amusing scenes involving Stink's Bigfoot obsession, but for the most part the film is doddering drivel. Your kids deserve better than this, people.
MINORITY REPORT: The best thing about the chart is I don't even need to know what films are out. Just direct the peons to the chart and direct my arse to the nearest drinking establishment. - Ian "ProfessorClumsy" Maddison