Diary of a Wimpy Kid (20th Century Fox, PG)

It feels more like an accurate depiction of what middle school was really like, as opposed to an adult’s nostalgic recollection of what it seemed like in hindsight.

 A film version of Jeff Kinney’s wildly popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid books was inevitable, I guess, given that their current popularity among children is eclipsed probably only by Harry Potter and Twilight, though it’s targeted at a younger crowd. I’ve read the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid book and was amazed at how funny and accessible it is to a (relative) adult—if they had been out when I was in middle school (which is when they are set) I would have loved them. Hell, I kind of love them anyway.

I’m delighted to report that the film pretty much gets it right, too. A lot of the structure and humor of the book is kept as intact as possible in its switch in mediums—the sarcastic humor, the unglamorized view of middle school life, the cartoon interstitials, the episodic-feeling nature of the plot that reveals that there had been a well-defined arc all along at the end.

The film version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid was directed by Thor Freudenthal (Hotel for Dogs), but I like to give most of the credit for the success of the film to the four screenwriters—Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo, Jeff Judah, and Gabe Sachs. All are alumni of various television shows, but Judah and Sachs were the writers on two episodes of the much-beloved Freaks & Geeks (“I’m with the Band” and “The Garage Door,” specifically), and you can see the F&G stamp on Wimpy Kid, in that it feels more like an accurate depiction of what middle school was really like, as opposed to an adult’s nostalgic recollection of what middle school seemed like it was like in hindsight. On top of that, not all of the kids cast in the movie are aesthetically appealing, and there are some uncomfortable close-ups of hairy freckles, boogers, and moldy cheese (the latter of which is done in bad CGI—one of the few missteps of the film).

Like Alice in Wonderland, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a hard PG—maybe they’re slackening the rules on that rating or something. In addition to what some might consider less-than-wholesome values (our main character, Greg Heffley [Zachary Gordon], refers to his classmates as a bunch of morons and is probably right, and he routinely hurts his best friend Rowley [Robert Capron] physically and emotionally), but also it has a fairly graphic scene of someone getting peed on. On top of that stuff, though, which feels emotionally true (except for maybe the peeing thing), there’s a lot of the more tender stuff, like a sweet conversation between Greg and Rowley about how they overheard a girl in their class say that a boy in their class had a cute butt. (“How can a butt be cute? It’s a butt.”) This type of attention to the thought processes of middle schoolers is what makes Diary of a Wimpy Kid such a success—it is true enough a representation for real middle schoolers to get into it, and to make their parents both laugh at and cringe for its hapless heroes. | Pete Timmermann

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