Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: A Review (Review #155)


I don't have negative memories of middle school. Granted, it may be because I have few memories of middle school: endless running at P.E., violin concerts, Christmas shows when they were still called Christmas shows.

However, since I knew most of the people in middle school from elementary, there wasn't this gigantic shift between the two points. My, how things have changed, at least that's what I gather from Diary of A Wimpy Kid, the film based on the wildly popular book series by Jeff Kinney. Middle school now is fraught with dangers ranging from spoiled cheese to spoiled kids.

Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) is forever confident of his own genius. As one of the great beings of the late Twentieth Century, he finds the entire concept of middle school to be the most idiotic waste of his time, which could be better used having the world discover what a genius he is. Be that as it may, Greg, along with his best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) do the best they can to navigate the lunacy that is middle school.

Greg has to contend with the machinations of his evil older brother Roderick (Devon Bostick), the clueless nature of his parents (Rachel Harris and Steve Zahn), and the never ending frustrations of his schemes to get the recognition his genius entitles him to. It should be in athletics, in spite of not being able to use the wrestling he's seen on television to good use against guys or girls; it should be as Safety Patrol commandant, even though he would let his best friend take the fall for his actions. It should be as a cartoonist, even if his output may be a little too refined for the average middle school student, which he's not, Finally, it should be as the star of the school play, even if he is relegated to a chorus of trees.

Diary of A Wimpy Kid might be better called Diary of An Obnoxious, Self-Centered, Egomaniac Kid. Greg as a character is so unlikable: he belittles everyone, has a highly-inflated opinion of himself, and treats everyone around him with a genuine contempt. His treatment of his best friend Rowley is especially mean. I think it's fair to say that Greg isn't an actual friend to Rowley. Rather, Greg is with him because Greg can dominate him so easily. In short, Greg is so mean we end up wanting him to fail merely to see his ego be brought down several pegs.

Nothing shows off our 'hero' to be so awful a person as when Rowley is stripped of his Safety Patrol status, although when Greg pushes Rowley to do something that injures him physically comes a close second. This would have been a good moment to show that Greg does genuinely care for/about Rowley, protests notwithstanding. However, his actions right up to the end make him to be a rather bad person.

We can't ever sympathize or empathize with someone that shallow and narcissistic.

The humor of Diary of A Wimpy Kid comes from the cruelty Greg inflicts on those around him, especially Rowley, who seems to be made to be tortured and abused, sometimes physically, by his best friend. It makes watching the film hard when you stop to consider that Rowley is the only person Greg's age who holds him in high regard while Greg appears to have contempt for this basically sweet albeit dimwitted kid. It also comes from the fact that all of Greg's grandiose ideas of how to obtain the adoration he was born for always end up backfiring.

Of course we expect them to fail, so when they do, we end up not caring one way or the other.

Whatever incidents in Diary of A Wimpy Kid goes through aren't either original or funny. The two montages of Greg wrestling don't do anything. The Halloween sequence ended in the most predictable way (here's a hint: Zahn is waiting to ambush teenagers with a bucket of water, and one guess as to who gets it).

Part of the problem with Diary of A Wimpy Kid may be that there are four writers (Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo, Gabe Sachs, and Jeff Judah) for one film, and a children's film at that, and it may be a case of too many cooks.

Perhaps the strangest choice in the film concerns Roderick. When we're first introduced to the older brother, he's emerging out of his garage rock band in a massive fog of smoke (which strongly suggests marijuana use in a kid's movie, an odd choice I thought). Later, through circumstances in the constant one-upsmanship between Roderick and Greg, their mother discovers a magazine with a bikini-clad beauty on a motorbike which looked more Maxim or Lowrider than Playboy.

What I got was that the suggestion that porn (or a facsimile thereof) was bad, but the suggestion of pot was OK. Further confusing things is Roderick's affection of referring to the mother by her first name. Is Susan his step-mother or natural mother? I didn't know where to stand.

The performances were nothing extraordinary. Gordon played Greg as if he were an adult trapped in a kid's body, and I'm going to figure that it the correct way of interpreting the role. However, it makes his rather harsh way with everyone, particularly his mean-spirited nature, even more jarring. Capron's Rowley was a far better character and the film would have been more entertaining if he rather than the self-absorbed Greg were the center of the film. Capron both as a performer and a character is more like able than Gordon/Greg.

One character I didn't understand was Karan Brar's Chirag Gupta. While it's a positive step to see more minorities in film, I didn't understand why this Indian-American child had to have an Indian accent. If that's from the original novel, I would be reluctant to have my child read it in the first place. I'll grant that Roderick as a character was one-note (forever cruel to Greg), so Bostick's performance was appropriately mean. Harris and even Zahn, an actor I simply have never warmed up to, are wasted in their tiny roles of clueless parents, but Zahn manages to make his clueless father even dumber than the usual characters Zahn plays.

Kids may love the Wimpy Kid series, and they actually be good. However, my diary is too full to include another entry (although, alas, there will be another one).


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