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Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010) ***

April 9, 2010

written by: Jackie and Jeff Filgo
produced by: Nina Jacobson, Bradford Simpson & Ethan Smith
directed by: Thor Freudenthal
Rated PG (for some rude humor and language)
94 min.
U. S. release date: March 19, 2009

For better or worse, middle school hasn’t changed much since the last time you attended.  It’s hands down one of the most difficult times in life. You’re being scrutinized by your peers from day one. Amid the cliches and bullying, there’s the pressure of who you’re seen with, what you’re seen wearing, and where to sit during lunch. Whether that was last year or decades ago, the awkward world where tweens mutate into teens is a tumultuous one. Sadly, a good movie focusing on the so-called life of 6th thru 8th graders is hard to come by…..until now.

Having only seen the film and not read the books by Jeff Kinney, I remain clueless as to what his definition of “wimpy” is. Sure, growing up, kids were called “wimpy”, most likely because they weren’t cool, which is something that “Wimpy Kid” protagonist, Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon,)  is concerned with. Still, I didn’t find any wimps in this film. Instead we find a likeable young man who thinks he’s pretty awesome, at least awesome enough to make it in the yearbook as “class favorite” (something I can’t recall anyone really wanting) about to embark on his first day of middle school.

As he craves popularity, Greg also has to figure out what to do with his best (and only) friend Rowley Jefferson (Robert Capron), considered an unpopular pudgy nerd. Along the way we meet other kids in his world, some are overgrown apes while others like Chirar Gupta (the adorable Karan Brar) are shorter than him, which is reassuring since all the girls seem to be taller.

The first sign that Greg is clueless in his obsession with popularity is when he and Rowley interact with their first girl. Angie (Chloe Moretz) approaches them, as they hide from gym class under the bleachers where she’s reading Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. She introduces herself, informs them she works on the school newspaper and advises them on school life. She is kind and cool. We see it. Rowley sees it.  Greg is freaked and thinks they ought to stay as far away from her as possible. It’s the first of many scenes that show that a.) Greg will have much to learn in this film and b.) he can learn much from Rowley.

At home, Greg suffers from middle-child syndrome and tends to get either lost in the mix, misunderstood or rarely acknowledged. His older brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostwick) gives him poor advice and threatens to pulverize him at every turn while his four year-old brother, Manny (played by twins Owen and Manny Fielding) can’t stop calling him “bubby!” in public. Can’t a kid get a break? At least his parents (Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn) don’t come across as the moron adults that are so often depicted in these films. They try to lend support to Greg but since this is his story and point-of-view, we rarely see them.

Throughout the school year, we follow Greg as his attempts at popularity continuously backfire. He joins all the wrong extracurricular activities such as wrestling thinking he can use the cool moves he knows from TV and when that goes nowhere he has the idea that being in the student patrol (basically school cop) will gain him some respect. Well, he gets whipped by the resident snot-nosed freak-show, Fregley (Grayson Russell, last seen as Texas Ranger Bobby in “Talladega Nights”) as well as the school bully, Patty (Laine MacNeil) result in Greg making the cover of the newspaper in the most humiliating way. It’s during his run as school cop with Rowley where his true colors are shown which eventually reveal to Greg just what it means to be a friend.
Director Thor Feudenthal (“Hotels for Dogs”) is reaching for the same tone of “A Christmas Story” with a dash of “The Wonder Year”,  both classics in the coming-of-age genre. While this film is not as good as those, it has its heart in the right place. The voice and characterization is believable for each role with some parts exaggerated a little for the sake of a laugh. It also has the typical fart, belching and booger humor that can be found in the typical Will Ferrell movie, only here its age appropriate. It helps that all the actors involved (it really is more of an ensemble cast) are very talented young kids, many of them have been working for a while now Moretz in particular is about to break big very soon.

Feudenthal also brings the same stick-like cartoon drawings from Kinney’s books to animated life throughout the film which is a fun addition to the movie. It’s another way to get into Greg’s head as his journal doodles act out his thoughts and feelings. Probably the best part about his characterization is that, well, he’s kind of a self-obsessed jerk. If you think about it though, weren’t we all at that age? Self-obsessed, I mean.  Regardless, it is still easy to follow Greg around and relive those awkward and awful years. As much as Greg is the lead character in the film, we come to realize (as does he) that Rowley is the true heart of the story.  Luckily, he does come to this knowledge just in time and you get the idea that he’ll come to the realization that there’s no escaping being yourself. Which is okay, he’ll need that for high school.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Amy Stewart-Cooper permalink
    April 9, 2010 12:07 pm

    Great review, David! My kids love these books but they haven’t asked me to take them to the movie because they’ve developed the same, “The movie is never as good as the book” feeling that I have (except I really like the Harry Potter movies). Based on your review I’ll take them to see this movie. Thanks!

  2. windi permalink
    April 10, 2010 1:08 am

    My sister-in-law and I took our kids to see this during spring break. We had 5 kids, ages 7-10 and they ALL loved it. And so did Elana and I. Several times during the movie, we’d look at each other and laugh, because we SO remember some of the stuff that happened!

    I thought it was really well done, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Trevor and Elijah have both read the books and although Trevor said it didn’t follow the books at all, it at least kept the spirit of the books and so it was ok! :)~


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