April 1, 2010

The Relatability of the Wimp

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Children’s films have become more and more geared towards the adults who accompany kids to the movies. These movies are becoming more appreciated by young adults, as well as the critical community (for example, Up being nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award). Diary of a Wimpy Kid is successful in that its mutually appealing for both children and the “young at heart.”Diary of a Wimpy Kid (based on the book by Jeff Kinney) is the story of a young boy, Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) who is eager to be the most popular kid in school or a “class favorite,” ranking himself at an overly generous #19 on the cool scale in the beginning of middle school. Greg, who is one of the smallest boys in the sixth grade, struggles with how to achieve the elusive popularity.

Unfortunately his vehement quest for coolness is often at the expense of his chunky long-time best friend, Rowley Jefferson (Robert Capron) who Greg’s brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) has urged Greg to ditch. Greg loves Rowley — the two make an adorable pair — but he urges him to change his vocabulary (don’t say “play” say “hang out”), change his clothes (get rid of the “I Love My Mommy” shirt) and get rid of the quirks that make Rowley who he is.

Beyond Rowley, Greg’s quest for coolness at school meets many barriers. From day one at gym class (one of the most horrifying parts of middle school) Greg is grouped in with the scrawny, dorky boys — who are amusingly chosen to be part of the “skins” team.

Greg and Rowley hide from their tough coach under the bleachers and meet an adorable seventh grade outcast, Angie (Chloe Moretez). Greg is far too cool to associate with a fellow loser, so he immediately isolates a potential friend. Rowley however, is eager to be friendly and takes an immediate liking to Angie (and remarks his conversation with Angie is his longest with a girl ever).

This initial social situation is reverberated through the whole film — Greg thinks of himself as “too cool” for something while Rowley is open-minded and eager. Rowley’s enthusiasm and self-acceptance is a far more successful equation for popularity in middle school. The message of optimism and confidence as a recipe for success is one that even those long past middle school can relate to. What makes this film so funny is relating it back to the most awkward years of anyone’s life, middle school.

Not surprising, the setting makes for some very funny story lines, for both children and adults. In the movie theatre you could tell which jokes made all the adults laugh and which made all the kids laugh. Some of the kid-targeted jokes were a little too gross-out, particularly the ones centered around the cringe-worthy Fregley (Grayson Russell).

This super-weird sixth grader, according to Greg’s narration through his journal (not diary, as he clarifies for the sake of his masculinity), gets sent home on a monthly basis for “hygiene issues” — you can only imagine what that means. One particularly disgusting scene is when Fregley is chasing Greg around with a booger on his finger. Fregley is the sort of kid that most middle school kids wouldn’t want to be within 100 yards of them. When he wrestled Greg in one scene (attempt to be cool: join the wrestling team) the audience writhed in the thought of having Fregley touch Greg (or sit on his head).

One of the major sources of comic relief is Patty Farrell (Laine MacNeil) who is the main antagonist of the film — she is the bully, the daughter of the PTA president, a wrestler (and a far better wrestler than Greg), an actress and a social climber. Her attitude towards Greg is hysterical; she is always publicly threatening to beat him up — again, like she did in kindergarten and fourth grade.

The acting is very good, regardless of the age of the actors. The familiar pain of middle school is very well articulated through Greg, and Rowley takes naturally to the awkward transition between elementary school and middle school persona. The casting was spot on — Fregley is a fantastic gross-out character and Patty plays catty to a tee.

The movie intertwines the doodles that made the book so popular with live action, at a good rate — which adds the beauty of the books to the movie, which fans of Kinney will enjoy.

Overall, while the majority of the film is geared towards children, it will be appreciated and enjoyed by anyone who can relate to the awkward years of middle school and the dorky protagonist Greg.

Original Author: Cara Sprunk