Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Starring Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron, Rachael Harris and Devon Bostick. Directed by Thor Freudenthal. Rated PG (infrequent coarse language). 91 mins.
This amiable, non-abrasive pre-teen comedy is based on the book of the same name by American cartoonist-author Jeff Kinney which spawned a series of sequels that have racked up sales of some 28 million.
Its landscape is middle school, the period in the U.S education system between elementary (primary) school and high school, labelled “the awkward transition between child and teenager”. The wimpy diarist of the title is sixth-grader Greg Heffley (played with a refreshing lack of precocity by 12-year-old Zachary Gordon). Greg is a small but smart, witty lad who is a talented cartoonist and aims to be famous one day — but for the time being is “stuck in middle school with a bunch of morons”
It’s his goal to be class favourite, but he soon finds that his confident assumptions of his own likeability and superiority are not necessarily shared by others. His efforts to connect with those he wants to impress generally come to nothing, while the kids who seek him out are those he looks down on. Ain’t it the way?
Greg decides that his chubby, daggy best friend from elementary school, Rowley (Robert Capron), is a hindrance to his new-found ambitions, which seems to be confirmed when older students gang up to deny them lunchtime seats at a table in the school canteen. Greg even treats Rowley dreadfully by letting him take the punishment for one of his misdemeanours.
The movie charts his ups and downs in dealing with sibling rivalry, making friendships, girls, loyalty, social pressures, peer acceptance and other issues that will shape his character, and it’s not revealing too much to say that he emerges at the end as a better-equipped human being.
Director Thor Freudenthal, working from a deft script by Jackie and Jeff Filgo, Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah, keeps it gently amusing throughout and avoids the worst gross behaviour that bedevils many an American film about the denizens of schoolyards. He also gets agreeable, natural performances from Gordon, Capron and his young cast, and makes excellent use of author Kinney’s cartoon creations in short animated sequences that pepper the movie.
There is one puerile story thread revolving around a piece of mouldy cheese that middle-school lore says no student should touch because it bodes ill of some kind, but on the whole the film is engaging and satisfying family entertainment that teaches in a palatable fashion some significant life lessons.
Mr Jim Murphy is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Released: Out September 23