Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for Some Rude Humor and Language
Directed by: Thor Freudenthal
Written by: Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo, Gabe Sachs & Jeff Judah
(based on the book DIARY OF A WIMPY KID by Jeff Kinney)
Starring: Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron, Devon Bostick, Rachael Harris, Steve Zahn & Chloe Grace Moretz
When bringing a hit book for young adults to the screen, a filmmaker probably has about a 85% chance of failure. For every HARRY POTTER, you wind up with about three more at the same level as ERAGON or TWILIGHT. DIARY OF A WIMPY KID easily could have been a disaster. By some miracle, it winds up being not only a tolerable kids film, but it’s oddly charming and entertaining to boot. There’s something refreshingly honest about a movie that addresses Junior High for the pure torture that it is. While High School weren’t exactly the best years of my life, Junior High was where most of the bad things happened in my K-12 years and I think it’s pretty much the same for almost everybody else out there.
Greg Heffley is trying to adjust to his Middle School experience, but his best friend, Rowley, isn’t making it easy. While Rowley isn’t afraid to enjoy childish things, Greg is eager to become the coolest kid in his Middle School. He will do whatever it takes to get listed in the yearbook and stand out. This isn’t so much a story but a series of episodic events and they actually work for the story being told over the period of a school year. Greg makes many attempts to stand out whether it joining the wrestling team, joining the safety patrol, or trying out for the school play. While Greg tries to grow up, his friendship with Rowley is on shaky ground.
Seeing as this is a kid’s film, some elements are inherently over-the-top and silly. The character of Greg Heffley is a flawed protagonist and though he has the best intentions in mind, he also makes some pretty big mistakes for the sake of being self-centered and selfish. This lends itself to some of the bigger laughs at play here. Greg’s narration runs through the entire film and sets up the scenarios from his perspective, though we do see his many failures and his slight victories.
As far as the production values go, the film is professional. It also highlights some of the many annoyances that came into play in Junior High, including the school news and the barbaric practice of pitting all of the jocks against the weaklings in gym class, in a very funny way. The writing here is solid enough and connects the episodic narrative in a way that satisfies the viewer by the conclusion.
The cast is hit or miss. Some of the child actors are really good and others are a bit shaky. Greg’s parents, played by Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris, are pretty realistic though. This is how I’ve seen many parents act and while Greg may feel that they’re being tyrannical, this is just a husband and wife raising a family of three kids. Some of the characters are hilarious, a couple of highlights being the bratty little girl (whose mother is the head of the PTA) or the nose-picking weirdo (who eats near the trash cans at lunch). Some of the humor in this movie works so well, because we’ve dealt with those people in the past. I very vividly remember my encounters with a similar bratty girl, whose mother ran the PTA. Greg’s older brother, Rodrick, is also without a doubt the funniest part of the movie.
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID is a decent little family film that was followed by two sequels, both of which are better than this original film. It isn’t overly cutesy and works based purely on a cynical sense of humor. Some scenarios are over-the-top and there are a few too many bathroom jokes. A few of the cast members aren’t very good either. However, with this all in mind, there’s something that is so relatable about the entire film. It isn’t nostalgic, because that would require one to enjoy Junior High. It will entertain children and serve as a bit of a reminder as to how far grown-ups have come from those dark Middle School days..