Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010) dir. Thor Fruedenthal
Starring: Zachray Gordon, Robert Capley, Devon Bostick, Chloe Grace Moretz, Grayson Russell, Karan Brar, Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn
By Greg Klymkiw
This minor surprise hit is the sort of family film that makes me fear terribly for the next generation of children. If the title character is one that kids are supposed to identify with and in fact, do, then all of us oldsters are in for a rough ride in our august years when these brats grow up into bigger brats.
Not that there's anything wrong with upholding and extolling the virtues of a kid who is clearly an underdog, but the character of Greg Heffley (Zachray Gordon) is not only represented ever-so blandly by the generic young actor shoe-horned into the role, but is such an unpalatably dull and spoiled figure of boyhood that the film might be better titled "Diary of a Little Knob". And a little knob he surely is. That said, he comes from an entire family of knobs.
Living in a relatively affluent, bucolic, tree-lined suburb dotted with immaculate pre-war two-story homes, Greg is about to enter middle school convinced that childhood must be left behind n order to fit in, and most importantly to strive for acceptance based on beiing cooler than cool
Alas, he's a wimp.
We know this because the movie (and his character) tell us he is through clunky, all-over-the-map narration (striving to be clever with a myriad of animated comic book techniques, wipes and flashbacks, but falling short and feeling contrived). What's especially odd, however, is that Greg initially appears to be the unlikeliest candidate for wimp-dom. He's a fresh-faced, relatively articulate, seemingly innocuous and even sweet-looking young man. Granted, he's got a shorter, more slender frame than many of the jock-types, but he certainly qualifies as cute. Again, if the movie didn't keep telling us what a wimp he is, we'd have no reason to believe he actually is.
And, I reiterate, as the story progresses, he actually proves to be as big a knob as all the bullies are.
This, of course, is no surprise, since his immediate family are also knobs. The movie keeps telling us that this is the typical and ideal suburban family and while I admit that most suburban-types are, in reality, knobs, this does not appear to be the film's intention. Yet another reason why the movie fails miserably.
His big brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) is an eye-liner-wearing wanna-be basement grunge-rocker who imparts advice to Greg about handling the transition to middle school and then insults his little brother by telling him what a wimp he is and playing one cruel practical joke after another on him.
His mother Susan (played by the abominable Rachael Harris, an actress reeking of TV-Q and not much else) is a shrill, professional working Mom who pays far more attention to her youngest child, an obnoxious and somewhat ugly toddler always sitting on the pooper. As well, she is quick to believe her eldest son when he fixes it so that Greg gets into trouble. Why she puts such faith in this lanky, head-banging poseur is beyond me.
Then there's his Dad Frank (embarrassingly over-played by the woefully untalented Steve Zahn) who secretly sides with Greg, but is ultimately so pussy-whipped and ineffectual that he's unable to do much of anything when Mom and Big Brother cut him down. Zahn's overwrought, eye-bulging, please-like-me school of acting inspires in us, the desire to bash his skull to watermelon-pulp with a baseball bat.
Once Greg comes to school we truly begin to realize what a cowardly knob he is. His friends include Rowley (Robert Capron) the amiable, childlike, Mama's Boy fatso with streamers on his pink bike, the drooling, buck-toothed, snot-eating Fregley (Grayson Russell) and a cute, earnest and bright young East Indian boy Chirag Gupta (Karan Brar). Any one or all three of these boys are much bigger wimps than Greg. They also happen to be far more engaging characters - so much so that when Greg tells us in the insufferable to-the-camera narration how ashamed he is of being seen with them, we like them even more and begin to detest the leading character with a passion.
When Greg meets Angie Steadman (Chloe Grace Moretz) a genuinely stunning and intelligent middle school babe who edits the school newspaper, reads Allen Ginsburg and extends an offer to Greg to help her out on the paper, we begin to detest our leading man-boy even more as he rudely rejects her advances. We get no real or believable explanation why he would do this, he just does. And all one can think is - what a knob!
Eventually, we write this loser off completely when he displays total and irredeemable cowardice and lands his best friend in hot water - betraying him further by not owning up to his guilt (and when he does, doing so with a backhanded apology).
By the time Greg owns up to all his mistakes, he's forgiven - but not by us. He's been such a knob that his turn seems sickeningly manipulative. It's also one of the more moronic plot details. And speaking of moronic plot details, the worst involves a piece of mouldy cheese that sits forlornly on the pavement of the school's play area. It carries an urban legend that anyone who touches it becomes - untouchable. During the climax, some bullies force Greg's geeky fat-boy friend to not only touch it, but take a few bites of it. When the rest of their classmates show up, Greg "bravely" grabs the cheese to save lard-boy the ultimate humiliation and himself becomes, the untouchable. The movie tells us he's learned a lesson, but we never really believe it. Besides, up to this point Greg has been such a supreme knob that the audience not only detests him, but so does the school populace. So big deal, he makes a sacrifice to take himself from pariah to bigger pariah.
The movie, while a mere 90 minutes, feels like an eternity. Aside from the character of Gupta, the sweet East Indian boy, the entire world of the picture is so white and affluent that it's impossible to feel much of anything for anyone. Yes, these worlds exist in real life, but they're populated by people so bland and average that if one is to bother making a movie about them, then part of that movie's perspective and/or mandate should be to examine how such a world perpetuates sameness and condemns diversity. Alas, it sticks to the status quo like a fly to fecal matter. And, of course, let's not forget that Greg, the main character, is a knob who ends up hurting people that seem far more likeable and engaging than he is.
By the end, one is simply drained, sickened and offended. This generic colour-free world is placed on a pedestal and our title character's plight is ultimately so inconsequential that the very cleanliness of the world the film creates makes us feel dirty.
interestingly (and happily enough to me), my own eight-year-old daughter was so bored and disgusted by this movie that she begged me to take her to see another picture immediately after it ended. I took her to see "Green Zone" which not only thrilled her, but inspired a lengthy discussion afterwards wherein she stated that a lot of the "bad people" hurting the Iraqi people seemed like Greg in "Diary of a Wimpy Kid". Delightfully, she cited the persnickety slime-ball American bureaucrat played by Greg Kinnear as seeming to be the Greg character from "Wimpy Kid" and what he'd be like when he grew up.
So much for traditional family values if they're anything like those on display in this abomination. "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" is family cinema of the lowest order. Take the kids to "Green Zone" instead - or, for that matter, ANYTHING else. And if you've already forced them to see it, try cleaning their palate with something worthwhile.