Movies: Diary of a Wimpy Kid * * *
PG, General release
Directed by Thor Freudenthal and based on a bestselling series of kids' novels by Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is set in and around an American middle-school, and follows the fortunes of one of its newest students.
Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) is a socially ambitious 12-year-old who's determined to make a big splash at his new school, despite his older brother's spiteful warnings that smaller kids get the tar beaten out of them.
Greg's dream is to become so popular that he is mentioned in dispatches in the end-of-year annual. But there's a problem: Greg isn't very good at anything and when he tries volunteering for various sports and hobbies, things invariably end in disaster. For instance, when he tries wrestling, he's ignominiously defeated by a girl called Patty Farrell, who hates him from way back. And attempts at soccer and joining the school security team end equally grimly.
Then there's his terminally kiddy and uncool best friend, Rowley (Robert Capron), who wears dreadful clothes and still asks people to 'play' with him rather than 'hang out'. Rowley doesn't seem to fit in with his friend's ambitious plans and when the going gets tough, Greg decides to drop him. But Rowley is not as uncool as Greg thinks and will end up teaching his friend a valuable lesson.
A decent cast includes Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris as Greg's long-suffering parents, and there's much comic business around a piece of rotting playground cheese that has supposed deadly powers. In the original novels, Greg's exploits were described in telling line-drawings that often contained the punchlines of slowly built-up jokes, but most of this quirky charm has been lost in translation to the big screen.
This film's biggest problem, however, is its thoroughly dislikeable central protagonist. This Greg is an unusually sneaky and solipsistic urchin who seems oblivious to the feelings of others and certainly does not deserve his infinitely more empathetic best friend. You don't want Greg to win, you want him to fail, and he doesn't do so half often enough for my liking.