With Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron. Rated PG for some rude humor and language. 93 minutes.
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID is based on Jeff Kinney’s popular book series that satirizes the problems of middle school student Greg Heffley. Greg has an obnoxious older brother, an embarrassing baby brother, a goofy best friend, and a knack for getting himself in absurd situations. In other words, he’s a sixth grader with whom kids can identify, as they hope that he’ll eventually make the right decisions.
In this live action movie Greg is played by Zachary Gordon, who was 11 at the time, the same age as his character. He wants to make a name for himself in middle school, but is saddled with a best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) who’s “not ready for middle school” and has a knack for saying the wrong thing at the worst possible time. The movie follows Greg’s various attempts to be “cool,” all of which backfire.
In many ways the movie is similar to the Nickelodeon series “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide.” Whichever came first, both take an off beat look at middle school from the perspective of a personable kid who isn’t destined to become big man on campus. Middle school (a different generation called it “junior high”) is in that limbo between childhood and adolescence where kids are going through physical and emotional changes, and may not even understand why they’re acting out.
“Wimpy Kid” perfectly captures a time when where you sat in the cafeteria could make or break your reputation. Some people may peak at this stage and make life hell for those they look down on, not appreciating how fleeting and meaningless middle school status will be in the long run. Adults with long memories may appreciate that perspective, but the filmmakers know who their audience is: the roughly 10-14 year old age group that is either living through this now or contemplating this in their immediate future. What may strike adults as absurd – like a rotting piece of cheese in the schoolyard which promises social death to anyone unfortunate enough to touch it – may ring the truest to middle schoolers.
Gordon and Capron are perfectly cast as the heroes of the film, while Devon Bostick is entertainingly malicious as Greg’s older brother, who does things like reset Greg’s alarm clock so he thinks he’s late for school. The one odd note is Chloe Moretz as Angie, a seventh grader who has the whole school scene figured out and tries to clue in Greg that his priorities are all wrong, to no avail. Moretz is fine, but the character seems a bit too much of a plot device. If such a character existed in real life – and looked like that – she wouldn’t have much trouble holding Greg’s attention.
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” cleverly hits a demographic that’s too young for the adult romantic comedies and R-rated action and horror films, but is too old for entertainment seen as being for “babies” (meaning someone younger than they are). This is a movie that will speak to them, make them laugh, and gently underscore its values that friendship is more important than status seeking. Adults may have a good time too, but this is one the middle schoolers will better enjoy with their friends than with their parents.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.