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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (review)

Tales of a Seventh Grade Nothing

If your movie based on a series of bestselling kids cartoon books ends up on the big screen feeling like Diary of a Wimpy Kid does — like a rejected pilot for a Nickelodeon sitcom — it might have been wise to excise one bit from its opening. Freshly minted middle-schooler Greg Heffley, lamenting his pubertal lot in life, addresses the camera and asks us, “Who wants to see a movie about a kid who is stuck in middle school with a bunch of morons?” Cuz if this is what is on offer, the answer is most definitely “not me.” And apparently not the multiplex screening room full of kids I saw the movie with, who squirmed through the whole thing and didn’t laugh once.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Greg’s loosely strung together episodic exploits is that Greg is the biggest moron here, just about the least likeable character onscreen. Apparently it is a notable feature of author Jeff Kinney’s cartoon books [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] that his Greg is not perfect, and that’s great: there’s nothing less appealing or less believable than a character with no human flaws. But while young leading man Zachary Gordon (Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, The Brothers Bloom) is engaging enough, as movie moppets go, the script — by a small army of, unsurprisingly, veteran sitcom writers (Jackie and Jeff Filgo; Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah) — renders him as little more than a selfish, lying jerk who chases middle-school fame by any means necessary. He’ll just about tolerate another outcast kid because at least the other guy is shorter, saving Greg from the indignity of the dubious honor of Shortest Kid in School, but the things he does to his supposed best friend, the sweet and happily dorky Rowley (Robert Capron: Bride Wars), in the pursuit of coolness and celebrity are not pretty.

Someone might have told director Thor Freudenthal (Hotel for Dogs) that the things that a storyteller might be able to get away with in the stick drawings that make up Kinney’s cartoon novel can suddenly seem heartless and cruel once actual real flesh-and-blood kids are standing in for the characters. Middle school is bad enough, isn’t it, what with the “science experiment gone bad” of budding adolescence and teachers who appear to enjoy setting kids on one another — the gym coach puts the boys to playing “gladiator,” which is like full-contact dodgeball, a game designed to humiliate the kids who haven’t had their growth spurt yet — that it hardly needs the piling on of Greg’s appalling behavior, which doesn’t extend merely to treating his best friend like dirt but also to endangering some kindergartners he’s supposed to be looking after. I understand the point the film is attempting to make about learning life lessons the hard way, but Diary is neither stylized enough to diminish the harshness nor grounded enough to cope with it realistically. In this mushy middle, the movie doesn’t appear to appreciate how downright distasteful it is.

There’s only one genuinely weirdly amusing concept here, one that at the same time also captures the awkwardness of this stage of childhood and all the new social rules that must be obeyed even before you realize what’s going on, not to mention the accompanying adolescent alienation. It is “the cheese touch,” a condition “worse than nuclear cooties,” which one acquires from the moldy piece of cheese on the school grounds that, miraculously, never gets dissolved in the rain or eaten by a dog or swept up by the janitor but continues to rot away without ever actually rotting away. Once acquired — as by accidentally touching the cheese — the cheese touch must be passed on to another student. Which is tough to do, because no one will come near anyone cursed with the cheese touch.

If only the whole movie were as cleverly presented and as smartly knowing as the cheese-touch segments are. It might have made Diary of a Wimpy Kid feel less like it was infected with the cheese touch itself.


MPAA: rated PG for some rude humor and language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
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  • Steve Simmons

    I agree particularly that the main character came off as an unlikeable jerk; however, I felt that Rowley saved the movie from the garbage can. He was very funny. The health class film of the unliked kid breakdancing was great! On the whole, though, I thought you hit the mark pretty well.

  • Jennifer A.

    I saw the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid Movie” this week in a sold out theater of middle school kids and adults and everyone loved this movie. I don’t know where you saw it, because the audience I saw it with was laughing out loud and this movie was fun and entertaining for everyone.

    If this review was written by MaryAnn Johanson, then your review is so “off” about this movie that it is hard for me to believe that we saw the same film. Everyone in the theater I saw it in was laughing, sneering, booing, and engaging in this movie. The film is a witty, fun, emotional and relatable romp thru those difficult years- called middle school or Jr. High. The movie kept close to the author’s writings, which was important to many of the readers of the novels. My kids were very happy that they interwove the cartoon figures from the book into the movie. And the director did this so seamlessly that it became an integral part of the enjoyment of the movie for those who have read the book.

    I don’t know who this guy Steve Simmons is, but based upon both of your comments, it is clear that you both have no clue as to what this movie is about. This whole movie is created by and narrated by Greg Heffley who writes in a “journal” about his survival in middle school. He is the one creating and telling the story. The author specifically portrays him with character flaws, because that is apart of real life. We root for Greg, while all the while, liking him at times, hating him at times, and then loving him at times.

    The “Diary of a Wimpy Kid Movie” isn’t a syrupy make believe fantasy story, with an “underdog” hero who gets picked on, then conquors life in middle school. gets the girl (which doesn’t happen in real life either) and then becomes the savior and popular kid. This is real hard core experiences about the real issues kids face in their middle school experiences and their families.

    Unless you are from another planet, it would be hard for anyone not to relate to so many parts of this movie and find it funny. Greg Heffley (played terrifically by kid actor Zachary Gordon)makes the character of Greg Heffley come to life. Greg has real problems to combat, including surviving middle school, climbing up the social ladder, dealing with his sadistic brother who gets him into trouble, his chubby naive best friend who isn’t socially acceptable and acts like he is stills 6 years old, and his parents who don’t understand him or attempt to.

    The movie portrays experiences that all of us in one way or another have gone through. If you can’t find comedy or a connection in this movie, I suggest you watch foreign films and Ms. Johanson, you stop reviewing films. This so-called review comes off biased, untrue, and “off the wall”.

    I highly recommend this movie. Discard this absurd review and go see it for yourselves. You will find this movie to be a hilarious, and relatable movie to anyone who has survived middle school and lived to tell the tale. It is an enjoyable emotional ride thru the social workings and interactions of a middle school, a time that, for all of us, was mostly painful “limbo” in which we weren’t kids anymore, yet we weren’t teens either. Some kids didn’t hit their growth-spert for years, others were already shaving. If you don’t find any comedy in that or this film, you must be “anal retentive” and have far greater problems than I can address here.

    I recommend the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid Movie” to anyone of any age. It is a great movie that is funny, sensitive, and an entertaining film that will have you “laughing out loud”. This is a film both adults and kids will like equally…..

  • Roger A

    My family went out to see the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Movie Saturday, and found the movie, witty, funny, relatable, and insightful.

    I have to agree with Jennifer A. MaryAnn Johanson-where do you come off to say “Skip it”? This is in no way a truthful review. I have to agree with the other comment that your review is totally absurd and very “off”. Plus I was in an theater with kids and adults from 10 years old to 80 years old and everyone was laughing, the adults as much as the children. You have to be “lying” to say “in your review” that “no one was laughing” in the theater you saw this in. You are either super-critical of this movie (for some unknown or personal reason) or you didn’t see the same movie as we did. Your review is not clever or objective. It is just “trite”, stupid and completely un-objective.

    And for the commenter, Steve Simmons, you obviously can’t tell “great acting” from “garbage” since you got caught up in the main character’s, “Character” (Greg Heffley, played by actor Zachary Gordon) Wow, to say what you did, then Gordon must have done a great job in the part, because that is exactly who Greg Heffley is from the book and he got you to dislike him. Glad you disliked him so much, that was the point of the movie! Kudos to Zach Gordon for his believable portrayal of Greg.

    Our whole family has read the books, and we all found this an excellent adaptation from the book to the cinema. I don’t think you know what you are talking about, MaryAnn Johanson! Reviewing movies is not your thing. I think you should ponder the “meaning of life” and when you get an answer, maybe you can review that?

    For everyone else, who is normal, if you want some great, wholesome entertainment without all the computer graphics stuff, this is the film to see. Everyone, except MaryAnn and Steven, will connect with this movie and find it funny and very entertaining, as we did.

  • Willow2000

    Couldn’t agree more with Jennifer and Roger’s comments. MaryAnn’s comments come off nasty and arrogant, they do not effectively review this movie.

    This was a hilarious movie and well acted by all. The kid who played the lead was super! He really carried the movie from beginning to end. The movie seemed to go by so quickly.

    Go see this movie, it’s simply great!

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