“Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer” is an aggressive, unpleasant motion picture. Surely younger viewers will take a shine to its hyperactive charms, but they won’t be challenged or celebrated, just visually assaulted by all manner of shock value and crude behavior, with studio suits ready to get their hands on that delicious “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” money.
Eager to commence a summer of scheduled thrills and spills, Judy Moody (Jordana Beatty) is horrified to learn that all her friends are taking off for the season, leaving the impatient girl alone with her family, including troublemaking brother, Stink (Parris Mosteller). Fearing the sweet nectar of summer mischief is lost, hope arrives in the form Aunt Opal (Heather Graham, here for the dads in the audience), a guerrilla artist recruited to watch the kids for a few weeks. With Opal’s limited interest in discipline, Judy embarks on a series of adventures, hoping to build a nice collection of Thrill Points for her fearless efforts, while helping Stink in his quest to track down Bigfoot, feared to be roaming their neighborhood.
Based on a series of books written by Megan McDonald (who co-scripts), “Not Bummer Summer” bring an allegedly beloved literary character to the big screen, where her messy red hair and penchant for yelling is allowed to roam free in a cinematic space. It seems the page is where Judy Moody should’ve stayed, as her first film experience is a tedious assortment of unappetizing escapades (CG animation takes over for fantasy sequences), gracelessly orchestrated by apathetic director John Schultz, who seems to have a knack for vanilla cinema, having previously helmed “The Honeymooners,” “Like Mike,” and “Aliens in the Attic.”
The tone of “Not Bummer Summer” is strident, with Schultz sounding a pre-adolescent siren, using a series of extreme close-ups and cartoon sound effects to remind the unfortunate souls who’ve gathered to view this monstrosity that this should all be amusing and energetic. Yipee. Instead, the abrasive effect induces a headache right away, shoving the movie into the face of the audience without a proper introduction, tossing glitter pens, a wilted pass at a graphic visual style (for reasons not explained, most characters wear circular eyeglass frames), and bathroom humor at the viewer to make a quick impression. Because it wouldn’t truly be a film for the entire family without squirts of animal urine, displays of chewed food, sprays of vomit, and the near-consumption of fecal matter. How else would kids know when to laugh? Sigh.
Equally as grating is young star Beatty, a performer who seems to think she’s planted on a Broadway stage, not standing in front of a sensitive camera. Her antic performance is overkill in a film that’s in desperate need of a sedative, working the frame like an infomercial pitchman. Beatty’s grasp on the insignificant anxieties of childhood are laudable, but the emphatic shriek of the acting is startling at times, almost reaching jazz-hands emphasis during a few manic outbursts. Beatty’s Moody is not a likable heroine of kid-lit glory, she’s a pushy young thing with a broken volume dial.
“Not Bummer Summer” boards roller coasters, chases ice cream trucks, and stages a dance party, but a merry offering of substance? Not a drop. Schultz doesn’t know how to corral a point to the berserk events, weakening the characterizations and feel for the self-sustaining maturation Judy is allegedly encountering. I suppose the suggestion of a behavioral awareness would interfere with all the screaming into the camera.
This is an ugly movie, perhaps not harmful, but certainly repulsive and hollow. Take your kids to a park or library this weekend instead of spending time with this nonsense.