So here’s a philosophical question for modern cinephiles: Is it a positive development that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is moving on to new spheres by appearing in movies other than mopey modern indie dramas, or exasperating that the stereotype is not only persisting, but expanding? In Judy Moody And The Not Bummer Summer—an ice-cream headache of a film inspired by Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody children’s-book series—Heather Graham stars as possibly the first wacky, quirky, painfully effervescent MPDG in charge of cheering up a sullen grade-schooler instead of a sullen man in need of romantic rescue.
Graham flings herself into the role, squealing and bouncing and bringing madcap bohemian art projects and personal emotional validation into the life of her young niece, the eponymous Judy (Jordana Beatty). But Graham is far from the most manic thing about Judy Moody. Beatty’s character is a comically hyperbolic drama queen in training; when she finds out her parents and two of her best friends will be out of town all summer, she pendulums back and forth between throwing outsized diva pout-fits and brokering a competition to see who can make the summer most “thrilladelic” and “über-rare” with a series of adventurous dares. The plot is simple, but director John Schultz (Aliens In The Attic, Like Mike) punches it up with a visually garish aesthetic somewhere between Pee-wee’s Playhouse and a low-budget Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The colorfully dressed characters wear their hair in cartoony Tim Burton flips or wild tangles. They squeal or yell their lines. They leave animated speed trails hanging in the air when they zoom by. Words, numbers, and animated fantasies pop up in mid-air to emphasize the action. It’s all as crowded and goofy as a car full of clowns.
Judy Moody And The Not Bummer Summer is in many ways the spiritual sibling of the Diary Of A Wimpy Kid movies: Both center on comically self-absorbed, fantasy-prone kids with delusions of grandeur and heightened senses of drama, suitable for the big emotions and silly-fits of a protected, indulgent childhood. But the Wimpy Kid movies at least let their protagonist grow a little and learn a few lessons, whereas in Judy Moody, Beatty mostly learns that the world does revolve around her, helpful supportive manic aunt and all. Not that anything in Judy Moody is meant to be taken seriously—or could be, even if it was meant to—but even for sugary neon fluff, it’s awfully lightweight. It’s like something an MPDG cobbled together out of Silly String and glitter in order to get an emo kid to smile for a few minutes.