REVIEWED: DIARY OF A WIMPY KID
August 29, 2010 Leave a comment
In the opening moments of Thor Freudenthal’s adaptation of Jeff Kinney’s hugely popular children’s novel series Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a strange pang of familiarity hits. Of course, coming-of-age stories centred around a nerd trying to survive school are nothing new, but in the film’s first scene, as Zachory Gordon’s protagonist attempts to skip school while his older sibling pesters him, it is a moment incredibly reminiscent of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Not to mention Gordon, with his cocksure smirk and tousled black hair, is Matthew Broderick’s spitting image.
Though aimed squarely at kids and slapped with a PG rating, don’t be fooled that this is another homogenised, family-friendly film free of personality, because Wimpy Kid, while not always a thoroughly rousing comic outing, is often brimming with charm. More reassuringly for older audiences, there is a real cheekiness to it all, with a few subversively naughty jokes managing to sneak their way in, particularly from Steve Zahn’s father character and Devon Bostick as the older brother.
It goes without saying that some elements are markedly clichéd – the new kid in the new school with an awkward home life is rote to the point of redundancy by now – and there is probably too much potty humour, for just about every bodily substance that can be shoehorned into a PG is in here, but the poppy, fast-paced style, combined with fairly witty wall-breaking commentary from the protagonist keeps things interesting enough. The plot may not offer much to speak of – it sees Greg (Gordon) trying to climb the ranks of his school’s popularity ratings while being stuck with possibly the two strangest pupils in the place – but the writing is injected with a knowing juvenalia that is in fact rather infectious. The film’s best gag in this regard relates to a mouldy slice of cheese stuck to the school’s courtyard that “infects” any kid who touches it with the mythical “cheese touch”, a make believe contraction that the kids flee from like something out of 28 Days Later.
The content is immature, yet it knows what it is, and is written with the tongue poking firmly in the cheek. The screenplay has a real ear for how children of that age think – such as when the kids try out for wrestling class, only to discover that it isn’t like the WWE – yet it is also considerate enough to provide some more upmarket gags for the adults, such as a satirical anti-bullying motivational video, complete with a Tom Selleck doppelganger and the most continuity-impaired breakdancing you have ever seen. Director Freudenthal meanwhile seems to understand the pulpy origins of the novel, amalgamating the illustrated format of the source novel into the film by interspersing rough cartoons into scenes via well-integrated CGI every so often.
Probably the film’s most bemusing aspect, though, is its title. Greg isn’t really that much of a wimp; the kid has confidence and aspires to climb the school’s food chain, insistent that he will do so with ease. His buddies – the portly, incredibly young-minded Rowley (Robert Capron) and ADD-addled weirdie Fregley (Grayson Russell) – make him seem positively charming by comparison. It is perhaps for this reason – that Greg in fact doesn’t have much true conflict to deal with – that things lose a touch of steam by the hour mark. The scribes evidently struggle to generate animosity between Greg and his buddies, and though its commentary on the fickle nature of school cliques is potent, there is a sure air of desperation to the friction.
Some might also struggle with the protagonist’s perceived arrogance; Greg is mean to his so-called friends and not overly contrite when realising what he has done, or at least not until the end when he suddenly has to be for the sake of closure. Still, there’s a good bout of rascally wit here even if it doesn’t sustain for the entire – and pretty brief – runtime. The sarcastic, misanthropic older brother character is the highlight, and as a light mockery of the high school system it is fun and unobtrusive even if the surplus of gross-out gags isn’t really needed.