DVD review: True to its irreverent and sarcastic roots, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is sure to make fans of Jeff Kinney’s best-selling children’s series want to shout “Zoo-Wee-Mama!” in approval. It accomplishes the tough task of balancing juvenile humor (there will be boogers!) with sly adult wit.
I was very nervous to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid after Zachary Gordon (Greg Heffley, the Wimpy Kid) and Robert Capron (Rowley, Greg’s best friend) won me over during the time I spent chatting with them about their movie last week. I couldn’t bear the thought of being disappointed in the film because they were so cute and funny that I desperately wanted their performances to live up to their charming, real-life personalities. So I’m happy to report that I was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief very early on in the movie — Diary of a Wimpy Kid totally exceeded my expectations and I think that those who hold Jeff Kinney’s illustrated novels near and dear to their hearts are also going to be pleased, especially since director Thor Freudenthal made very clever use of the books’ stick-figure drawings throughout this first adaptation.
The film covers the daunting initial year of middle school for Greg, Rowley and their fellow misfit friends. While Rowley is clueless about what it means to act “cool” and is content to just be himself, Greg is obsessed with where he falls on the popularity scale and is on a quest to do something worthy of a mention in the yearbook. As if surviving the hallways filled with “gorillas who have to shave twice a day” wasn’t enough for them to worry about, they’ve also got Greg’s menacing big brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick, who was perfect for the role and proceeded to steal every scene he was in) giving them bad advice in one ear, and angsty loner chick Angie (Chloe Moretz, the weakest link in the film, perhaps because her character wasn’t in the books) waxing poetic in the other. They’ve got to avoid being seen with the freakish, freckly Fregley (Grayson Russell), keep from being taken down during wrestling practice by Greg’s nemesis, Patty (Laine MacNeil, truly hilarious), and — at all costs — stay far, far away from the moldy, steaming slice of Swiss that’s been stuck to the playground blacktop for over a year, lest they get the dreaded “Cheese Touch.”
What I liked best about this film is exactly what others might find fault with: its snarky attitude. Like Kinney’s books, this movie does not talk down to its core audience: kids. It does not make the middle school years out to be a time of happiness and wonder, nor does it tone down the many shortcomings of its main character. Greg is often mean-spirited, makes the wrong choices, doesn’t stick up for his friends and is only out for numero uno. He’s jealous and manipulative and exasperated by the “morons” surrounding him. In other words, he’s like, you know, a true-to-life, insecure, twelve-year-old boy.
Before any of you parents start worrying that there’s no overall positive message or moral to the film, let me put your minds at ease. There is, and it’s about accepting yourself as you are, as well as the power of friendship. But this message is not served up in a pretty package with a bow on top — in fact, there is one scene that gets a little preachy and I became worried the film was going to end on a sappy “Let’s all be best friends!” note, but thankfully, Freudenthal was just messing with the audience.
I can’t say that the film is quite as brilliant as Kinney’s books, but Diary of a Wimpy Kid is certainly a fun, twisted romp through the first year of middle school, and offers something that everyone — kids, adults, fans of the series and those who’ve never heard of it before — can enjoy. Although it did make me remember the awful day in seventh grade when I got the chicken pox and had to back out of going to the Sadie Hawkins Dance with my longtime crush… but that’s my own issue.