I'm a substitute teacher, and if you asked me last year what was the most popular book students were reading, I'd say without hesitation 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid'.* The cover sports simple designs of mostly miserable kids undergoing not 'The Wonder Years,' as many have attributed this movie experience, but those middle school children going through the horrible transitional anomolies of growing up between childhood and adolescence.
I was curious to see this film, but felt some aversion. Afterall, how relaxed would you feel after the beginning of a substitute teaching academic year, coming home to watch a film adaptation of the students' favorite book?
I was very surprised at how much I sat back and enjoyed this film. I forgot about all the 'Wonder Years' comparisons I had glanced at, skimming (and, for me, cheating, I feel) the critics' takes on this movie, and it was only about three-quarters way through the movie that I remembered this comparison because the film had taken a life of its own. Despite the acclaimed TV show's originality, I found 'Diary...' to be much more endearing. I feel this is an acquired taste, but I easily liked Zachary Gordon as the perky, but flawed protagonist, Greg Heffley. He's not the one we necessarily side with, but his reading is more fluid and less pensive than the groundbreaking series protagonist, but it's really the hand of the director, Thor Freudenthal and editor, Wendy Greene, that keep the presentation peppier and more interesting. Jack Green's photography frames everything so colorfully, which only goes to show what timing and taste can do to frame any material.
Now call me flunky if you will, but I never did read the book (although I peeked over the shoulders of many a young reader). Besides the excuse of the dog whittled on my library book, I can say I judged the movie on the basis of its own merits. However, without pretense, I can say, I really appreciated and loved the way they brought vivid animation from the original book to express the stream-of-angst consciousness of Greg, and it added to the charm and unfolding of a pre-teen world that elicits our sympathy and understanding. All the fears and embarrassments that come from the engulfing world of middle school comes back to consciousness tangibly as we see Greg face new challenges as the young, little fish in a scary, big pond.
It isn't by no means plotless. Front and center Greg aspires to be the most popular student by sheer willpower, and as many middle schoolers can attest, that can be disasterous. Taking on his--in his eyes--geeky known friends, like Rowley Jefferson (Robert Capion) and trying to do his self-conscious best, Greg goes out for every extra-curricular, dress code, and social fau paux tricks with about as much variety as a pre-teen can to experiment.
The results can be as disasterous as they can be funny, for besides a fickle student body, Greg must also cow tow to the demands of bully older brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostick) as well as clueless parents: Frank (Steve Zahn) and Susan (Rachael Harris).
After assigning myself an evening with this movie, I can safely say I was transported to my own 'Wonder Year' days (which this story surely mines as a misnomer for most us), and I was pleasantly transported with a cathartic humor and love for an ensemble that truly brought humor and happiness to this adult's living room chair. My recommendation: Oh, I feel so irresponsible, but, here goes...If you haven't read the book, skip the 'Cliff Notes-' by golly if there were such a thing--and watch the movie. Then, read the book and make some comparisons. Now THAT seems like a real piece of work. ;>) Rocky, JP
* Over recent years, I'd have the 'Harry Potter...' series or 'Captain Underpants...' trading places as the top contender.
What did you think of this review?