Apr. 07, 2010 - Issue #755: Spring Style
Diary of a Wimpy KidFor a while, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a loopy, rough-and-tumble comic look at middle school—Malcolm in the Middle meets The Wonder Years for the newest demographic, tweens: those kids who've left parental supervision behind but aren't yet drowning in the hormone deep-end. But as the movie shambles along, its title creeps up on it, wedgie-like. The "diary" episodic-ness becomes uncomfortable and, more painfully, the main kid's defining trait turns out to be much worse than wimpiness.
It's the first weeks of middle school for Greg (Zachary Gordon), who's stuck at home between potty-training brother Manny and teenaged bully brother Rodrick but, at school, is determined to move up the social-status ladder to "class favourite." His genial, cool-clueless buddy Rowley Jefferson (Robert Capron), though, could hold him back.
Like Greg's cartoon drawings, Diary of a Wimpy Kid paints people as caricatures. There's not enough lampooning of middle school's strange rituals and perverse educators—the boys' gym teacher is, with a hilarious germ of truth, an affable sadist, pitting big bruisers against little guys or using his assistant coach as a tackling-bag to show wrestling moves. (For those of us who survived '80s school-life, there's a hilarious educational film reel, "It's Awesome To Be Me!", featuring break-dancing and bad, bright fashion.)
Kids with accents, from foreign exchange students to classmate Chirag Gupta, are left as token strangeness. Super-misfit Fregley ends up abandoned to future freakdom. And as no-worries, being-himself Rowley (Capron's the stand-out here) becomes more popular than Greg, we start to realize what a banal jerk the main character is.
Greg's obsessed with schemes for becoming popular, though he never bothers to actually make more friends. He ill-uses Rowley and lies serially. The voiceover makes Greg even more delusionally egocentric. And his refusal to ever openly recognize his selfishness is compounded by the movie's pushing of his egomania to its limit before a huge but hollow self-scapegoating (although, to the end, Rowley takes all the physical punishment).
Rowley and Mrs Jefferson bust out to Beastie Boys' "Intergalactic" at a mother-son dance, but Greg shies away from anything so effeminate. He doesn't like the word "diary," doesn't even want to talk to friendly Angie (Chloe Moretz), is ashamed his voice is still soprano, and the movie sees women as uptight (feminism's cartoonishly reduced to the grrl power of shrill triumph on the wrestling-mat or maternal scolding of Rodrick for his biker-chick magazine).
So Greg's not wimpy—he fears being a pussy. This apparently gives him licence to be a total dickhead. His diary's a fiction of self-aggrandizement and by the time he talks about his biggest lie in third-person, the movie should be retitled Diary of a Sociopathic Kid. No consideration for others, success at any cost, arrogant assumptions of superiority—it reminds me of my middle-school wonder years, the '80s, when pathological lack of kindness wasn't just a playground problem but a political state of mind.
In its main character, Diary of a Wimpy Kid offers a cynical, shrugging view of today's tweens. Maybe 10-year-olds do want a Holden Caulahfuckitfield out of some Catch-her in the ... why? book, but my inner optimist suspects they want, and deserve, better.
2Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Directed by: Thor Freudenthal
Written by: Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo, Gabe Sachs, Jeff Judah, Jeff Kinney
Featuring: Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron
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