This weekend I went ahead and Netflixed a film I wanted to see in theaters but wasn’t sure I wanted pay $11 a ticket to see: the movie adaptation of Jeff Kinney’s novel, Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
As a retired middle school teacher of one year, I have a weakness for movies about this age group and seeing how well they illustrate (or fail to illustrate) what the middle school experience is really like.
I don’t have as much to say about this film as I do about others (for good or bad), so I’m going to use the short format for this review.
- The high point of this movie is certainly the tremendous acting done by Zachary Gordon, who portrays 6th grader Gregory . His acting brings to life the smartass, self-obsessed, singularly-focused-on-becoming-popular-and-being-accepted mentality of Greg. Unlike your typical child protagonist, Greg is an asshole and makes mistake after mistake, and often without good intentions. But the way that the acting is pulled off, you really feel for Greg and can understand his motivations and cringe when he makes bad choice after bad choice. Zachary Gordon comes off as more authentic and real than anything else in this movie, including the plot.
- Half of the plotlines incorporated in the story are funny and relatable. When Greg and his best friend Rowley join the wrestling team expecting it to be like pro wrestling, I totally understood their horror and confusion at discovering what “real” wrestling is like. Being tormented by an elder brother, trying to fit in at the expense of alienating your “uncool” true friends, and jumping from extracurricular to extracurricular trying to find something that works for you and makes you feel worthwhile are all part of the adolescent experience being demonstrated in this movie.
- The acting by the adults is horrible beyond belief. Greg’s father in particular may be the worst leading adult actor I’ve seen in a movie in my life. I realistically believe that if you had gone out on the sidewalk and pulled a random person–male or female–off the streets and had them read Greg’s father’s lines, they’d be more believable as an actor and as a father than the cardboard cutout actor-wannabe playing the part.
- Half of the “plot” is composed of episodic threads that are too stupid to be believable, even when told from a middle schooler’s point-of-view. For example, apparently middle schools have a formal Mother-Son dance event. And on the first day of school, the gym teacher makes all the out-of-shape kids strip down to their shorts and fight against all the jocks. Yeah, whatever. The fact that a vital plotpoint of this story is a slice of cheese on the playground that has supposedly sat there and grew mold for years speaks tons about the quality of this story.
Summary: I really struggled with assigning this movie a grade. It’s unusual to have a film where the child actors are relentlessly superior to the adults. A lot of the “plot” is implausible at best, but in the end, the film offers some insight into the emotional fragility and perils of being a middle schooler.