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Interview with Elizabeth Allen, director of Ramona & Beezus

Elizabeth Allen directs Ramona and Beezus, a charming, sweet, funny, honest and genuinely delightful adaptation of the classic novels by Beverly Cleary. Grade-schooler Ramona Quimby (Joey King) feels like an outsider in school and even at home with her older sister, Beatrice (Selena Gomez), nicknamed "Beezus," and younger sister, Roberta (Aila and Zanti McCubbing). Her father Bob (John Corbett) loses his job and must stay at home to take care of her and her siblings while her mother, Dorothy (Bridget Moynahan), now becomes the family's breadwinner, Ramona desperately tries to raise money and to reunite her family in order to avoid having to move to a new house. She seeks the advice of her beloved, supportive Aunt Bea (Ginnefer Goodwin) and offers to wash the car of next-door neighbor Hobart (Josh Duhamel), Aunt Bea's ex-boyfriend. Elizabeth Allen has previously directed Aquamarine and the short film Eyeball Eddie. It was a real privilege to interview her.

20th Century Fox releases Ramona and Beezus nationwide on July 23rd, 2010.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you find the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotion and intellectually? How did you avoid veering into sappiness?

KA: When I first read Beverly Cleary’s autobiography, it was fascinating to me because her parents never said that they loved her. She never heard that, and my parents were the same way. In every way, my parents exhibited love unconditionally, but it was not like we were a very emotive family. I think that there are so many ways to show that without having to hit you over the head. Actions speak more than words. I felt that the book has that kind of restrained love, and that’s what I wanted to represent in the movie as well. I was lucky enough that the write that I collaborated with, Nick Pustay, [who] did my short film, [Eyeball Eddie], as well, is so awesome because he undercuts the emotion with humor. If he doesn’t, then I’d call him on it and ask him, “Where’s the humor button?” That, to me, is human nature anyway because no one really likes to feel all mushy---you always try to fight it a little bit and try to find a way to undercut it.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How were you able to tackle the issue of job loss so delicately without frightening little kids too much and without resorting to euphemisms?

KA: I hope I scared them a little bit only because I think that it’s important to walk in Ramona’s shoes to experience it. I think that parents do shield that from their kids a bit, and since the whole movie is from Ramona’s perspective, she’s shielded, so we, as the audience, are shielded as well. We know that things are going on underneath the surface, but we can’t quite figure it all out.

NYC MOVIE GURU: If a parent were to ask his or her child, “Why can’t you just be like everybody else?”, what would you tell the parent?

KA: It’s a tricky question because I believe that you can’t really interfere with other people’s parenting, and, statistically, it doesn’t even help. If I were to, theoretically, have a debate with a friend about that, I would say that to embrace a person’s individuality is going to help them thrive and prosper. Even if your ultimate goal is sort of superficial, I hope that that they’re successful and [happy]. I think that all of those things are going to be achieved better through a person embracing their individuality and their quirks.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What helped Ramona’s father, Robert, to become a more content individual?

KA: The reason why [Robert Quimby] is suddenly able to flourish, prosper and get in touch with himself is because he’s now actually the stay-at-home parent, so he is re-igniting his childhood at that moment when you’re deciding, “Should I be like everyone else or should I not?”. So, he’s able to transport himself back to that crossroad.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think Ramona represents on a larger, universal scale?

KA: [Ramona] is a representative for how you can find a balance between society’s norms and figuring out how to play by the rules a little bit [while] still maintaining your individuality. [Ginnifer Goodwin] is like that in real life, too, which is why she was such a perfect person to cast as [Aunt Bea]. In the perfect world, I’m hoping that Ramona will be guided by her Aunt who’s got flavor and is kind of iconoclastic, but is also not out-of-control.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What kind of symbolism did you include throughout the film?

KA: Ramona’s campaigning to getting her own room is essentially a symbolism of her growing up. The death of Ramona’s cat isn’t symbolism, [though], but a catastrophic event that will happen no matter what in a family’s life because you deal with tragedy every day. On a superficial level, I didn’t want [the film] to be girly. There are no pink colors in the entire movie, and, every day, that was a struggle. Pink is about girls and consumerism. Anything toy that was pink, [I asked] them to get it off the set. So, I made orange [Ramona’s] color because it’s gender-neutral, it’s really got a lot of flair, it’s a little different and the original book’s cover that I was ready was orange, so I have [the color] orange threaded throughout. When she loses her spirit, orange is gone throughout, and then at the wedding there’s all this vibrant orange.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think are the basic elements that turn a children’s movie into a classic?

KA: My favorite children’s book that was turned into a classic is To Kill a Mockingbird. I watched [the movie version] a whole bunch of times because, just like Beverly Cleary’s books that were writing in the 50’s, it stands the test of time. It’s not about anything too of-the-moment and there aren’t any really cultural touchtones, but it’s really about relationships and characters. Those will always be relevant. So I think that’s probably the most important thing.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you manage to entertain adults and children simultaneously?

KA: It was not easy because the books have a lot of stuff that appeals to adults and I was able to integrate that, so I had the luxury of books to draw from. But, in a movie, when you know you’ve got 5-year-old kids [watching it], you need to constantly have visual stimulants. Anytime there was an adult storyline, I made a promise to myself that it would be visually very exciting. The car wash and the water fight are not in the books, but they’re ideas that I came up with because I thought that kids are going to enjoy it, but it’s helping to promote the love story. Beverly Cleary was very supportive of [those additions].

NYC MOVIE GURU: In what capacity have you “colored outside the lines” throughout your life?

KA: I still wish that I were a little bit more fearless---I’m very much a goody-goody. I have a little bit of Beezus and a little bit of Ramona, and they’re in constant conflict with one another. What I had to embrace finally in order to become an adult is the idea that I was willing to fail. You have to be comfortable with not always getting the “A”, so I go out to actors that I’m going to be rejected from because I aim really high. That’s why I was able to get the good ones because I’m not afraid to fall on my face. Or I’d get a bad review, but then get back up.

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