Does the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ Movie Live Up to the Books?

(2010) dir. Thor Freudenthal

Adapted from the popular kids’ book series by Jeff Kinney, ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ is one of those things that I’ve come to know as a parent. The books are printed in a hand-written looking script, meant to be the actual “diary” or journal of Greg Heffley, the self-proclaimed “wimpy kid” and populated with lots of simplistic but amusing cartoons. And since Felix is learning to read, they’ve been the ideal motivator for him, so I’ve probably caught dozens of several page snippets but never a full book.

The self-deprecating humor about a boy entering into the hell years of middle school seem to speak to the elementary school kids below that age. He’s got a bullying older brother, a drooling younger brother, semi-clueless parents, and friends that have less social acuity than even him. And then there is school, popularity, humiliation, and all sorts of other things to make life miserable.

The film, though, is a live-action film, starring your typical cast of young people, some of whom are quite good, but fulfilling long-standing cliches of nerdiness or bitchiness or bullyishness. So, when it comes as a film, it’s a whole lot more like other things that we’ve seen before, even with Greg addressing the audience directly or in voice-over about his personal takes on the world, its hopes and its cruelties.

I have to say that the kids liked it, particularly my son Felix. He sat with a big grin on his face through much of it and laughed out loud often. He very much appreciates the humor and ironies of much of the material. Clara enjoyed it too, but perhaps less blatantly. Then again, Felix liked the animated parts and seemed a little ambivalent afterward.

The film does use animation to refer the characters back to their simple, not so obvious cartoon counterpoints, for recognition sake, I would guess. I suppose that this film might have worked better as animation in general, but the simple drawing style doesn’t offer itself particularly to the big screen. It’s very 2-D and goes well as a diary/comic. But the stories, transposed on real actors, are a little more pedestrian, even when quite funny.

And one thing in particular struck me. Greg’s character, in his neurotic concern about popularity (which isn’t analyzed in any fashion whatsoever — like what is the benefit of popularity exactly?), he shows that he is a very self-centered and egotistical person and ultimately not a good friend. He sells out Rowley, his chubby best pal, in a case of mistaken identity punishment. And the very cute older girl (who is a bit of an Avril Lavigne look-alike) who represents the opposition to conformitive thinking is shut out like she’s made of “cheese touch” (cooties on steroids). And while the story arc for Greg is that he realizes all this, it’s a somewhat hollow reconnection with his buddy and acceptance of the social strata being what it is.

So, really, it is a rather mediocre example of a kids’ film. But, notably, it’s the first that we’ve gone to see that is of this ilk (we don’t watch Disney Channel or Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network so we haven’t gone through the phase of the kid-oriented live-action shows). It’s perhaps a corner that they turn from kid to tween. I’m not pushing for that turn. And this film isn’t the gateway drug to those types of entertainments, luckily.

The books are still just about right.

For the full archive of movie reviews by Ken, please see kennelco.com/film_diary

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