Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Rated PG/91 min.
Two Out of Five Stars
Jeff Kinney’s hilarious Web comic Diary of a Wimpy Kid became a series of bestselling graphic novels that dealt with the hardships of a middle school student named Greg Heffley. I’ve read the books and they’re brilliant in the way they tap into the universal horrors of pre-teen life and extract humor from the most painfully embarrassing, relatable moments. We’re not talking Watchmen, but the graphic novels are among the funniest and most readable I’ve come across. The books are for everyone, while the movie, which Kinney produced, is strictly for kids.
Heffley is played by Zachary Gordon. His performance, like nearly everyone else’s, is on a snarky, glib, Nickelodeon sitcom-level. What was a clever satire on paper is now just a broad kiddie comedy.
The plot is a patched-together highlight reel from the comics: Greg getting tortured by his wicked older brother (a funny Devon Bostick), the rise in social status of Greg’s nerdy best friend Rowley (winningly played by Robert Capron), enduring safety patrol duty, being clueless with the opposite sex and the dreaded “cheese touch,” a cootie-like condition brought on by touching a long-gestating slice of cheese on the playground. Some of this is smile-inducing, but most of it made me wish I was reading the books instead of watching a second-rate adaptation. Kinney’s comic is a series of stick-figure drawings, which the movie sometimes recreates. The brief animated interludes are stronger than the live-action footage, which is oddly more cartoonish.
Considering how many truly great films there are that deal with the awkwardness of being a little boy—like The 400 Blows, A Christmas Story or Lucas (which had a career-best performance from the late Corey Haim)—this seems like a waste of a good idea. Why couldn’t the filmmakers have tried to do something smart and honest? Where the Wild Things Are and even Home Alone made richer observations about growing up and learning tough life lessons along the way. Don’t kids deserve better than obvious, easy gags about all things gross and grody?
Boogers and bodily functions get co-star billing, and the desired effect is achieved: the kids at the preview screening I attended laughed throughout. There’s something to be said for that, but it’s too bad that a genuinely smart subject got dumbed down for the Hannah Montana crowd.