Film Review with Robert Mann – Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Diary of a Wimpy Kid ****

It may not mean much for us Brits but in the states Diary of a Wimpy Kid is actually a bestselling book series with four novels having already being released and another set for release later this year. Written by American author Jeff Kinley (who also executive produces this film), the series provides a view of what life is like in middle school from the perspective of a young boy named Greg Heffley and the books read like a journal (hence the “diary” part of the title). Of course, differences between the American and British school systems likely mean that viewers over here won’t be able to relate to all the themes that feature in the stories (the first of which is adapted in this film) but this hasn’t stopped the film from proving very popular on its release in the states in March, managing to more than stand up to the star powered likes of The Bounty Hunter on its opening weekend and perform well enough to warrant a sequel which is scheduled for release sometime next year. As for this first chapter, however, is it an enjoyable family movie or is it just wimpy?

For Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) middle school is the dumbest idea ever invented. Not only is it an “intellectual wasteland”, according to the precocious Angie (Chloë Grace Moretz) but also, as Greg complains, “You’ve got kids like me who haven’t hit their growth spurt yet mixed in with gorillas who have to shave twice a day.” Greg’s diabolical brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) isn’t much help either. His advice is “Don’t talk to anyone, don’t look at anyone, don’t sit down…”, but he still reckons Greg will be dead or homeschooled by the end of the year. Thankfully, Greg has his best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) who always looks on the bright side of things – and a colourful crew of fellow middle schoolers like Patty (Laine MacNeil), Chirag (Karan Brar) and Fregley (Grayson Russell) to hang out with…

A poster for Diary of a Wimpy Kid features the tagline “It isn’t a movie. It’s a survival guide.” In many ways this is exactly what the film is. Essentially taking the formula so often applied to high school movies and applying it to a middle school (that’s the American equivalent to junior school for any British people reading this) setting, this film not only manages to avoid many of the clichés that plague that kind of film and feel fresh – high school movies are ten a penny but middle school ones are quite few and far between by comparison – but also provides a refreshingly honest and very funny look at the kind of things that make attending middle school so hard, such as the playground superstitions and the need to be popular. Not all of this translates well to non American viewers but there is still a lot to relate to here, with the horrors of middle school being something that many people may have experienced at one time or another. This relatability, combined with the film’s portrayal of the gullibility of imagination of children – Greg is a kid with big dreams and we are shown these through a number of well integrated fantasy sequences – is the source of much of the humour that is present here and, while not all gags hit the mark, there are some real laugh out loud moments to be found. Sure, the film is occasionally a tad gross but it is kid gross and it ties in to the relatability of it all as much as anything else. A key reason that much of this works is the writing which is both sharp and witty and while the plot is a bit disjointed at times – the story is more like a series of smaller stories reflecting each of Greg’s journal entries rather than one complete narrative – the character development, the lessons learned and the strong payoff ensure that you won’t care too much. The film also stays true to the journalistic style of its literary inspiration, with Greg’s journal entries being presented in the form of voiceover narration and everything being seen from his perspective. There are also some good messages here, making this is a film that may teach kids a thing or two as well as keeping them amused. Another strong point is the animated segments that feature throughout the film, sometimes even integrated with the live action content, that stay true to the delightfully simplistic illustrations of the source material, the animation looking like something that a child might draw and actually working so well because of this. No film, however, would be complete without strong performances from its cast and the film does not disappoint in this regard. The adult actors, notably Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn as Greg’s parents, prove amusing if a bit underwhelming but it is the kids who really shine and every single one of them is cast to perfection. The likes of Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron, Karan Brar, Grayson Russell and Laine MacNeill all bring their characters to vivid life, each their own distinctive and colourful personality, but it is Chloë Grace Moretz (last seen in this year’s brilliant adult superhero movie Kick-Ass) who really steals the show with a mature performance that once again demonstrates acting ability way beyond her years. So, there you have it – a family film that is far from your typical piece of family entertainment. Hotel For Dogs director Thor Freudenthal has made a film that is not just funny but also has lots of heart and plenty of insight. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is anything but wimpy.

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Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)


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© BRWC 2010.


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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.

2 COMMENTS
  • Robert Sharl 28th August 2010

    I liked it a lot. Smart and genuinely funny, full of warmth without straying too far into schmaltz. Great young actors too. My 9 year-old daughter and I both found a lot to enjoy in it.

  • Anonymous 28th August 2010

    It reminded me of Superbad!

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