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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

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Chick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-grey-sm Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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Diary of a Wimpy Kid

“It’s NOT a diary, it’s a journal,” declares titular kid Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) before he even writes in it. Just so you know.

The line-drawn middle-schooler from the wildly popular children’s book by Jeff Kinney, hits the big screen as a fleshed-out sixth-grader with a whole lot to write about. His big brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) is obnoxious and intrusive. Baby brother Manny (twins Connor and Owen Fielding) is inquisitive and destructive. Best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) is a pudgy, clueless red-head (with a bowl-cut) who thinks it’s cool to wear a serape to school.

Parents Susan and Frank Heffley (Rachel Harris, Steve Zahn) are oblivious in their kids’ world. Rodrick (in a band called Loded Diper) is menacing, belittling, and a cautionary tale himself. He is after all, the face of impending High School and THAT whole universe of ambivalence and anguish. But back to our 11-year-old “hero.”

The film breezes through Heffley’s first year of middle school, stopping here and there to illustrate the scary labyrinth kids must navigate if they want to avoid the dreaded “nerd” label. That means, as Rodrick advises, “Don’t volunteer, don’t stand out, don’t get noticed – and don’t hang out with Rowley.”

Middle School is the place where kids enter before their growth spurts and exit ready to shave. Girls tower over boys. The terrain is alien and no one has a roadmap. Heffley faithfully documents the journey in his diary….I mean journal.

There are daily middle-school minefields to cross; finding a lunch table or suitable classroom seating assignment; not getting massacred in gym class; not receiving the dreaded Cheese Touch (more about this later); and the omnipresent hierarchy of popularity. More mouths contain braces than not; redheads are everywhere. Bodily functions come into play and you won’t get out of Heffley’s world without a gross scene or two.

Heffley does not think of himself as a loser, but in readily assigning that label to others (one of whom is a true friend) he makes the mistake of overlooking quality friendship for the sake of self-preservation. His popularity chart goes all the way to 200, with varying reasons why a kid would land at the bottom. Sometimes even he does; mostly it’s his pal Fregley (Grayson Russell) who perpetually inhabits that spot.

Every middle school needs a Mean Girl or two. Here it’s Patty (Laine MacNeil). The Short Kid, Chirag Gupta (Karan Brar) saves Heffley from that most unfortunate designation. Smart/Cool/Alternative Thinker Angie (Chloe Moretz) is a wise seventh grader who’s found out what’s Really Important in life, but hangs around to shake her head at Heffley until he finally gets a clue.

Author Jeff Kinney’s minimalist line drawings illustrate Heffley’s diary, preserving the charm of the best selling books (sales are approaching the 30 million mark). Kids identify with Heffley, whose escapades resonate with more than a few adults as well.

You’ll never look at a piece of Swiss cheese the same way again (and may never eat it, as well). Part of Heffley’s Middle School legacy is a piece of cheese stuck to the playground’s pavement and rotting to a putrid rainbow of colors. Coming into contact with someone who’s touched it means you’ve inherited the dreaded “Cheese Touch.” Leprosy would be preferable. The Cheese is just an additional minefield to dodge for Heffley and Co.

Zachary Gordon is perfect as the pint-sized Heffley, all angst, fear and occasional jerk. Robert Capron’s Rowley is impressively devoid of insight into his character; he is just a sweet, friendly kid, popular in spite of himself. Grayson Russell is an endearing gross-out as the hygiene-impaired Fregley.

Rachel Harris is instantly recognizable as Mom, the bespectacled voice of reason to be avoided at all costs. Steve Zahn makes a suitable bookend as Dad. Devon Bostick is every younger sibling’s nightmare.

Television screenwriters Jeff and Jackie Filgo (That 70’s Show, Hank) inject sitcom timing to the humor, not a bad thing since it keeps a brisk pace that’s suitable to a pre-teen’s foibles.

Director Thor Freudenthal (Hotel for Dogs) has a way with nerds and never strays from a basic affection for his characters. Colors are bright, giving the film a cartoon-y appearance that works well with Heffley’s adventures.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid chronicles a rite of passage that most kids want to forget rather than document. Fortunately, Greg Heffley chooses NOT to fit in this one time, creating a chronicle that captures the conflict in all of its humor, foolishness and exploits in the familiar territory of Gross and the more exotic landscape of Occasional Grace.

Not bad for the Second Shortest Boy in his class.

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