- Original Plot
The third Wimpy Kid movie is out and I’m a little underwhelmed. It was definitely fun watching dorky, well-meaning Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) squirming in his own web of innocently-constructed lies, but the key points — the misunderstandings between father and son, the tyrannous older brother, the girl, the best friend — were all things we’ve seen before. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is not, by any means, a bad movie — just a very safe movie. No one aspect of this movie deserves a “bad” category. But there were enough mediocre things to drag it down. So for your rundown, I give you “The Good” and “The Meh:”
Greg Heffley just graduated the seventh grade and is all ready for a summer spent playing video games. His dad, on the other hand, has different, more outdoorsy, ideas about how long summer days should be spent. In an effort to avoid his dad and to hang out with crush Holly Hills, he fakes employment at a ritzy country club. As his lies and their consequences add up, tension builds between him and his father. Greg knows that if he doesn’t sail straight, he could be sent to a military-style boarding school in the fall.
It plays pretty much like an after-school special: The like-able anti-hero gets up to hi jinks, gets in trouble, and learns his lesson. Not the most creative set-up, but the lessons are good and realistic. Instead of “don’t screw-up,” it’s “take responsibility for your screw-ups.” At times, the movie hammers you on the head with its point when a little more subtlety might be preferable, but at least its heart is in the right place. Plus, these lessons often lead to hilarity. One biggie is that your lies will catch up to you. We watch Greg’s well-meant white lies grow into something equal parts funny and cringe-worthy. Regardless of if it’s a little thing like lying about an athletic ability or something bigger like lying to his father about getting a summer job, rest assured that Greg will get his comeuppance.
The film has a PG rating and it doesn’t push its boundaries, which I’m grateful for. It’s become commonplace for kids’ movies to resort to gross humor for laughs. Even on seemingly innocent shows, girls are glorified and untouchable while relationships are the Holy Grail. This is the first thing I’ve seen in a while where the kids are just being kids. The girl (Holly Hills, played by Peyton List), is a driving force but she isn’t the only thing in Greg’s world. And she isn’t, thank god, sexualized. She’s smart and athletic and individual.
At times, the acting gets over-the-top. It’s never laughably bad, but there’s never that beautiful moment some movies have where you forget that what you’re watching are actors and just see them as the people they’re portraying. Especially on the more emotional moments, like dad Frank (Steve Zahn) unplugging the TV, the audience can’t forget the reality that it’s just an actor giving a caricature of an angry father. Sorry Zahn, but this isn’t your best.
Even Zach Gordon didn’t fully deliver. While Zahn was going overboard with emotional highs and lows, Gordon seemed pretty unphased by it all. His character ended up being sweet and misguided, but not at all the awkward misunderstood middle-schooler I was hoping for.
On a brighter note, Robert Capron as best friend Rowley, Peyton List as Holly, Devon Bostick as Greg’s wannabe tough-guy older brother Rodrick, and Melissa Roxburgh as Heather (Holly’s stuck-up sister) were talented enough to keep the show afloat. Also a shout-out to Laine MacNeil who did an awesome job playing Greg’s nemesis, the no-nonsense Patti Farrell.
Father-son misunderstandings are nothing new, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid didn’t spice it up with anything. It was the typical kid who wanted to stay in and play video games and dad who wanted him to play outside. There was the occasional bonding, the expected minor bickering, and eventually the final “you crossed the line” move, followed by the dreaded, “I’m so disappointed in you.” Nothing anyone couldn’t have seen coming a mile away.
Fun For All Ages?
Probably not. I’d say it was aimed at the 7 – 12 age group. Go much younger or older than that, and interest will drop. Adults might be bored by the middle-school premise and might not find the humor strong enough to hold them through the 94-minute movie. The occasional animation — the movie’s based on a graphic novel and sometimes there’ll be a cartoon sequence to segue one scene into another — doesn’t help to expand its audience age range. Unlike Kick-Ass or Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, if you’re much older than the protagonist of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, you probably won’t be too hooked on his story.
Overall Rating: 3/5
On the one hand, Wimpy Kid doesn’t have very many redeemable qualities, but on the other hand there weren’t any strictly bad qualities either. It’s fun and goodhearted but doesn’t have a lot of substance. However, I’m sure a younger audience would have more fun than I did — so parents, go ahead and send your school-age kids to this one. But consider a different movie for yourself.