Based on the bestselling books by Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a funny film that the entire family can sit down and enjoy. It follows the first year of middle school for young Greg Heffley, as he does his best to become one of the most popular kids in school. His plans backfire and instead of becoming the most popular kid, he becomes one of the least popular students. Director Thor Freudenthal brings the same charm and knack for working with young actors that he brought to last year’s Hotel for Dogs. As with that film, Diary of a Wimpy Kid has a bright, enticing look and is wonderfully paced to keep everyone engaged. There is fine music and some enjoyable moments for the grown-ups, whenever Steve Zahn appears on screen. For all intents and purposes, this is a excellent movie. Well acted, beautifully shot, and it has a great message for kids about staying true to who you are and trying not to worry about the opinion of others. This message is especially important in those formative years that take place in junior high/middle school, which is where Diary of a Wimpy Kid is set.
However, I have problems with its lead character, Greg. To quote my daughter, “he’s a jerk.” There you have it, the hero is a jerk and honestly, he really doesn’t learn any lesson by the end of the movie. Moreover, he’s not even a lovable jerk. That bothered me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to heroes in films being jerks. I’ve sat through many feature films where the main character never changes while everyone around the, evolves. Yet, all of those films have been about adults (mostly indie films). For some reason, because this is a film about children, and it’s for children, the effect isn’t the same. Is it because children are impressionable and maybe they’ll watch the movie and think that the lead character’s behavior is okay? That’s part of it. Is it because he shows little to no remorse for his actions? Yep. Making matters worse, Zachary Gordon, the young actor playing Greg, does such an exceptional job in the role that I started to hate him before the movie was over (the character, not the actor).
Who is the favorite character in the movie? It’s not the snarky older girl, Angie (Chloe Moretz) who walks around in a beret, expounds of the dullness of trying to be popular and carries a camera, like some kind of bohemian 7th grader? No, it’s Rowley Jefferson (an adorable Robert Capron), the nerdy, awkward boy who isn’t afraid to express his feelings and proceeds through life as his own person. While watching the film with my kids, I asked them who their favorite character in the movie was. Without hesitation they said it was Rowley. Why? Because he’s the one character that stays true to himself, the one character who tries his best and isn’t afraid to fail, and the one character who is an individual and isn’t trying so hard to fit in with the cool crowd.
Perhaps that was the point Freudenthal and Kinney were going for. I can only assume, yes; but damn it, they did such a good job with this film at making the hero a jerk, that I just couldn’t love the movie as much as I wanted to.
Despite my reservations about Greg, Diary of a Wimpy kid should be checked out, even if it inspires conversations with your kids about Greg’s behavior and why Rowley is so awesome. The Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy of the movie is an excellent deal. Besides the three different formats to play the movie, there are some great bonus features, including diary pages from Rowley (written by Kinney) and deleted scenes.