Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Movie Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Diary of a Wimpy Kid **
Directed by:
Thor Freudenthal.
Written By: Jackie Filgo & Jeff Filgo and Gabe Sachs & Jeff Judah based on the book by Jeff Kinney.
Starring: Zachary Gordon (Greg Heffley), Robert Capron (Rowley Jefferson), Rachael Harris (Susan Heffley), Steve Zahn (Frank Heffley), Devon Bostick (Rodrick Heffley), Chloe Moretz (Angie Steadman), Connor & Owen Fielding (Manny Heffley), Karan Brar (Chirag Gupta), Grayson Russell (Fregley), Laine MacNeil (Patty Ferrell), Alex Ferris (Collin), Andrew McNee (Coach Malone).

As anyone who wasn’t popular can tell you, Middle School can be hell. You are stuck in a place where some kids have already hit puberty and sprouted up and whose hormones are raging out of control, while other kids still look and act like they belong in Elementary School. The pressure to be cool and to fit in with everyone is overwhelming. And the torment you endure if you don’t can be devastating. Parents, teachers and other adults don’t seem to understand, or care.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid tries to explain that pain in a fun, breezy comedy based on the bestselling books by Jeff Kinney. Strangely though, I don’t think that kids in Middle School are going to be the ones going to this movie – it is too juvenile for them – but rather it will be younger kids who go to the movie. The movie certainly aims itself at that young audience, and while the gross out gags will likely amuse them, to me the movie never really transcended its own limited appeal to those kids. At the screening I was at, I heard a lot of kids laughing, but no adults. This is one of those movies that parents won’t exactly suffer through when they take their kids, but won’t really enjoy either.

Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) is our hero. He has just entered the sixth grade, and thinks he has it all figured out. He is going to be cool – one of the class favorites in the year book. He has watched his older brother Roderick (Devon Bostick), who torments him daily just like any older brother (yeah, that means you Bob and Andy!) and figured out exactly how to avoid his fate as an outsider. The problem, at least how Greg sees it, is that his best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) is a loser and not ready for junior high. He decides, out of the goodness of his heart of course, to drag him along to popularity with him. Of course, things don’t going according to plan.

The film is episodic in nature, with one rite of passage giving way to another, then another. I couldn’t help but think of the cartoon Recess that was on a few years ago (and I should have been too old to watch, but did anyway), about a group of friends who seem to always be confronting one myth of the playground after another. The big one in this movie is the cheese – a rancid piece of cheddar that has been sitting on the blacktop for years apparently, and if you touch it, you get the cheese touch, and become a social pariah. There are also stints on the safety patrol, run ins with bullies, the “rebel” seventh grade girl who works on the paper (the delightful Chloe Moretz last seen in 500 Days of Summer, and soon to be seen in Kick Ass), tryouts for the wrestling team, hell in the form of gym class, a school play that turns into an apple fight (“Personally, I though Dorothy had it coming”), parents who don’t understand and of course, a fight with Rowley. In short, everything that makes school so much fun, and so much pain often at the same time.

If I were a certain age – I would say between 7 and 11 – I probably would have loved Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Any younger than 7, and I don’t think kids will really care about what is going on in the movie, and any older than 11 and they would probably find the movie too juvenile for their taste. Diary of a Wimpy Kid will appeal to the same kids who love TV shows like The Suite Life of Zach and Cody, Hannah Montana, Sonny with a Chance and Wizards of Waverly Place. It has that sort of feel good vibe to it, while addressing some of the problems of being an adolescent, without ever addressing sex, drugs or anything too serious. If you have a kid that age, then I would suggest you take them to the movie – they will most likely enjoy it, and it will teach them some valuable, if rather obvious, lessons about being themselves and the value of friendship. But for the rest of you, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a movie that you can safely avoid. It doesn’t transcend the kids move genre it falls into. It is exactly what it appears to be and that’s fine, as long as your kid.

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