Diary of a Wimpy Kid (PG) ★★★☆

Those Middle School Years are Tough Especially if you’re a Wimpy Kid!

Remember those awkward middle school days of self doubt, insecurity and feelings of unpopularity? Diary of a Wimpy Kidaddresses all of those rites of passage—or life lessons if you will, into High School and so many more stages of life. There are no wizards, no magic, no dragons or imaginary lands; this is real life, one that kids are currently living—one that kids can relate to. That’s what makes this film so unique and noteworthy.

Based on the highly successful book of the same name by author Jeff Kinney, selling over 30 million copies and translated into 30 languages, this surefire winner is bound to entertain not only families, but kids in elementary and middle schools worldwide. The books themselves (currently a series of four with the fifth one on the way) have been a godsend to teachers and parents as kids can’t get enough of the main character Greg Heffley. Each page is half cartoon and half text with the comedic elements usually embedded in the cartoon portion. Parents have reported that while their children are reading these books they actually laugh out loud.

The wimpy kid, Greg Heffley, played by Zachary Gordon, is really not so wimpy; he’s simply the product of unfortunate circumstances. He’s the middle child of three boys and his older brother delights in terrorizing him. He’s slight in build and is not particularly great at sports; although he longs to be popular and will stop at nothing to climb the social ladder in middle school. His best friend Rowley Jefferson, played by Robert Capron, is the exact opposite. He has a refreshing innocence and isn’t concerned about what the other kids think of him. Greg’s good nature and carefree attitude comes from his mom, who told him, “Just be yourself and kids will like you.” 

Middle school is Greg’s worst nightmare; he agonizes over every decision and second guesses himself almost to the point of being neurotic. Every new situation is a test of his self esteem and his popularity in school. He even worries about where to sit in class. As Greg goes through his day at school, we see the live action and also the corresponding page in the diary. It’s an enjoyable creative blend of the book and the movie. It works well and adds depth to the tale.

The film is hilarious as its those awkward moments that no one wants to relive that are displayed in such a way that we emphasize with our hero and cheer him on until we discover that he’s not such a ‘goody two shoes’ as he truly is self-centered. Yes, Greg has a selfish and jealous nature,  but that’s ok as he’s more true to life and kids can identify with him. He’s learning about life and how to handle certain situations. I applaud Jeff Kinney for creating a main character that has flaws and that, I believe, is why the books are so popular.  

One of my favorite scenes from the film is the Mother-Son dance. As you can guess, Greg wants nothing to do with this activity and goes so far to hide his mother’s invitation. On the other side of the neighborhood, Rowley and his mom are so… excited for the dance that they’ve been practicing dance moves together and can’t wait to show off their routine. Greg is notably mortified when Rowley and his mom jump onto the dance floor when the slightest hint of their favorite song begins to play. What happens next is typical in Rowley’s life as most things he attempts turn to social climbing gold. The kids can’t believe the ‘really cool’ choreographed moves between Rowley and his mom, Kaye Capron (who is actually Robert Capron’s real life mom away from the set). The dance moves not only get the party going, but Rowley becomes the star of the dance, leaving Greg to awkwardly get on board.

Both of the main actors have great chemistry together as best friends; you can truly see that they care about each other (at times) and are happy when together. Greg has such a hard time in school as he has set his sights on being popular and will stop at nothing to achieve his goal; often times, comprising Rowley’s friendship. Fortunately, Greg learns in the end that these choices are so not the right way to be a friend.

The film follows the book closely and that’s no surprise as Jeff Kinney is the executive producer and collaborated on most aspects of the film. The director is Thor Freudenthal (Hotel For Dogs 2009). Other characters in the film are Greg’s father, played by the Midwest actor Steve Zahn, and his mother, played by Rachael Harris. 

Bottom line: Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a wonderful family film that will generate meaningful discussions between parents and kids. As an advocate for quality children’s films, this one is at the top of my list!

Sarah Adamson © March 2010