Diary of a Wimpy Kid is okay entertainment. It’s based on an enormously popular book for kids in about the 5th or 6th grade. The movie though is merely a pleasant diversion. Parents and kids alike were having a good time. There was much laughter, just no real love, in the air.
Many of my favorite movies are about kids, about growing up, and about losing at least a bit of innocence. Nothing is more compelling than watching children as they get their first glimpses of the adult world, fear and wonder interwoven, so many mixed emotions. The best movies of this type make us feel as if we’re living those feelings along with the characters. They take us back.
Diary doesn’t capture that essence. Instead of granting us a child’s view, anxiously gazing up at an adult world as if peeking through fingers covering our eyes, we’re made to feel like a grownup staring down, pulling those fingers apart, and almost mocking what we find staring back.
Greg Heffley plans to become famous one day and, if he wasn’t “stuck in middle school with a bunch of morons,” that one day would come much sooner rather than later. He, of course, will learn the key lesson of growing up, that the world doesn’t revolve around him.
Greg learns repeatedly just how perilous the 7th and 8th grade can be and just how scorned that age is by denizens of that next rite of passage, high school. The scenes are often shaped around the motif of his fleeing and hiding behind locked doors – in his bedroom, a bathroom, his grandma’s house. But growing up means doors won’t always have convenient locks. His pursuers will simply open them.
Movies with such ambling plots need main characters that we’d happily follow anywhere. Our pleasures grow out of our empathies with their plights. We, frankly, enjoy hanging out with them. Unfortunately, as played by Zachary Gordon, Greg lacks the requisite charm. He’s a cute kid, but I didn’t empathize with his struggles. I found him annoying and wanted to slap him silly.
The two most memorable characters in Diary are a slice of cheese and a girl named Angie who walks about carrying an attitude and a copy of Ginsberg’s Howl. They both are also good examples of why the movie fails, just a bit.
That slice of cheese, stuck to the schoolyard concrete, has become legendary. Janitors respectfully guide their brooms around it. And woe to a kid who touches it. He’ll be cursed with “cheese touch,” a fate worse than cooties. But that piece of cheese just isn’t yucky the way a kid would imagine it. It appears almost clean, clearly unworthy of its disgusting reputation.
The movie lives and breathes every time Angie (played by the understandably very busy Chloe Moretz) appears. She’s like a figment of adult maturity in child’s clothing. She’s Greg’s conscience, gradually prodding him from behind his locked doors. But, the conceit of introducing her holding a copy of a Beat poem, a “lament for lamb-like youths in America,” feels off. It makes her too much the product of a purely adult imagination.
It’s easy to underestimate great movies about childhood such as Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Clark’s A Christmas Story, or Majidi’s Children of Heaven. They’re so deceptively simple and clear-eyed that one forgets how completely their creators had to step away from adulthood to imagine them.
The director of Diary should have stopped seeing like a grownup for 90 minutes.