Ever since Harry Potter hit the box office, it seems like movie studios have been gobbling up as many children's book series as possible, making them into movies and keeping their fingers crossed that it turns out good enough to make gobs of money. Usually those books involve lovable monsters, magic, talking animals and an exciting adventure. The good news about Diary of a Wimpy Kid is that it doesn't have any of that and if the rest of the series is as wonderful as this first one, I look forward to them with the anticipation I'd have for a Summer Blockbuster. Hard to believe that Thor Freudenthal was the same guy that directed Hotel for Dogs. Every frame of this film oozes with quirkiness that seems like it's taken right from the Arrested Development or Malcom in the Middle playbook. I understand that that humor doesn't appeal to everyone and is easily made ridiculous, but Diary of a Wimpy Kid is executed with talent that prevents that from happening. I'm unfamiliar with the book series by Jeff Kinney, but this did make me want to read it. The major reason is because it's about Middle School. I sat in the theater and racked my brain trying to think of movies that dealt with going into Middle School and I couldn't think of any. There are lots about Elementary School kids and an abundant saturation that deal with High School, but no Middle. Interesting too since Middle School for me was complete Hell on earth. There wasn't one day that passed that I didn't wish I was someone else; someone more popular. That's exactly what this story deals with. The main character, Greg who's decently plays Zachary Gordon (Four Christmases), is obsessed with becoming popular...what kid in 6th grade isn't? He stops at nothing to achieve his goal either and yes, that even includes throwing his best friend Rowley, who's played by the wonderful Robert Capron (Bride Wars) under the bus to make himself a "cool kid." Again, this is a theme that rings SO true with most people. It was such a wonderful story that seemed to capture the weirdness and misery that is Middle School in the way that makes it funny for everyone but the main characters. The only faces you may or may not recognize in this film are the Greg's parents, who are Steve Zahn (Joyride, Sunshine Cleaning) and Rachel Harris (The Hangover, Best in Show). They're fantastically funny in almost everything they do but they don't overshadow the ensemble cast, in fact everyone else is on level with them. The film is peppered with exceptionally comedic performances from quirky kids of all shapes and sizes that really surprised me with their skill level and bravery to mock themselves. As a former fat, little kid I know that I would never have taken my shirt off and ran around in slow motion. I wonder what audience this movie will find though. I understand the book series is very popular and hopefully that will be enough. But as just a film, it seems too adult and weird for young kids and too childish for older kids. I wonder if this children's film will end up in the cult status enjoyed by adults but panned by kids category, just like the classics The Dark Crystal, Monster House, and The Incredibles. I guess time will tell. But in the meantime, I suggest you take your kids to see it to find out. And if you don't have kids, I suggest you take yourself. It's a viciously funny reminder as to how horrible, confusing and terrifying a time Middle School can be but told in a narrative that makes laughing at it therapeutic.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: A-