It is quite possible that large portions of Diary of a Wimpy Kid will be lost on some people. However, those folks out there in the target age of the books, those currently in middle school and those of us who vividly remember their middle school experiences should find something in there to relate to.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is based on a series of books (with currently four in print and a fifth one coming soon) by Jeff Kinney. Told in the form of a written journal, the books chronicle the life and times of young Greg Heffley in his struggles with starting middle school, his uncool parents, his dorky best friend who skyrockets to popularity and his continuous feud with his brother Roderick.
Like That 70s Show being an homage to the 70s rather than a literally retelling of the era, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is more of a reflection on the middle school life. It exists in a hyper-real world where classes don’t exist and the key to popularity is a complicated code that eludes our lead character.
There’s a freshness to this film that we haven’t seen in recent popularity-chasing movies. Ever since Heathers, the rules of school have always been too defined. Thinking back to my own middle school and high school experiences, there were plenty of cliques, but none like the Heather or the Plastics from Mean Girls. Rather, popularity and social success at those ages was a little more organic. Elusive still, but malleable and less self-aware.
In some ways, Diary of a Wimpy Kid reminds me of the 80s pop sit-com Square Pegs. You have two dorky kids coming to a new school, desperately trying to fit in. Where Square Pegs became a caricature of its own era, Diary of a Wimpy Kid tells a story that has more heart. The character of Greg tries, he really does. But he’s not flawless, and he’s not always the greatest friend. And while the audience might be irritated or downright pissed off at some things that happen, he still has our sympathy.
As a critic, I’ve taken plenty of jabs from others, accusing me of approaching kids’ movies with a less-than-critical eye. However, in situation like these, it’s entirely warranted. After all, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is made for the fans of the book, the majority of whom are in grade school. If you don’t already know what the “cheese touch” is, chances are, you don’t fit in the target market for the book… or the film, for that matter.
I came to this film as a parent, taking my kids with me. And while kids tend to be ver4y forgiving of a movie a long as there’s not too much kissing in it, they also know exactly what they like.
I’m not saying that Diary of a Wimpy Kid is going to be the grade school equivalent of the Twilight movies, but it is a film for those who enjoy the source material. But even beyond the fan base of Kinney’s series, an audience can get a kick out of some of the many comedic elements, including slapstick phys. ed. footage, middle school embarrassing moments and examples of dorkisms the will make your head spin.
But deep down, what I enjoyed most about the film was how spot-on some of the experiences were. What out of shape guy didn’t have the experience of being put on the “skins” team in gym? Who didn’t find him or herself the subject of ridicule after saying something incredibly awkward to the popular kid? Who wasn’t the target of bullies at some time in their life? And who didn’t know a creepy kid who was overly excited about having a “special freckle” with a hair growing out of it?
I thoroughly enjoyed Diary of a Wimpy Kid, probably much more than a grown man should have. But it was fun. And it also made me realize that I wouldn’t go back to middle school for any amount of money.
The Upside: Even if you find the film tedious, the 93 minute running time is very agreeable.
The Downside: If you go to the theater to see this, you’ll likely find yourself in a sea of kids… and their idiot parents.
On the Side: After seeing this movie, I took my kids to my old elementary school to find a piece of cheese that Alex Steinman threw out the window one day. The cheese was gone, but the cheese touch stain was still on the windowsill. How ‘bout that?