(Alternate title for my internet homies like Luca of Wholly on the Level: Durry of a Wimpy Kid)
One of the best courses I took in college was on children’s film, where we spent a semester talking about just how fucking racist the original Peter Pan is and how much Ferngully sucks. My end of the term paper ripped off Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. with its title, “Fifteen Ways of Looking At A Friendly Ghost”. It was about how Casper, the Christina Ricci vehicle from the mid-90s, is bad for kids. My main thesis there was that Casper was a pervert and that the movie teaches kids that death is a great way to get out of school/things you don’t want to do.
A few years later, one of the message boarders on a board I post at regularly, CHUD.com, created a very controversial thread called “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is the worst movie ever made.” The gist of that thread was that Ferris Bueller was a sociopath who probably later grew up to work for Enron. Many people took offense to this, and the debate raged on for many pages, and I think somebody even brought up Nazis. Because, you know, it’s the internet.
I really hope everyone who disagreeed with that boarder never sees Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which I watched at work with the sound off, even though it took me three hours to get through a ninety minute movie because I had to tell customers where the Renee Fleming and Jason Mraz albums were, might not be one of the worst movies ever made, but it’s definitely one of the worst kids’ movies ever made. It’s not incompetent, mind — there are parts of this that are kind of good. Steve Zahn and Rachel Harris as the parents of the titular wimpy kid are very funny (Harris has a bit where she makes Roderik, WK’s older brother, apologize to all of womankind for having a bikini-biker mag), that girl who played Hit Girl is charming as the older “outcast” who attempts to mentor wimpy kid, and there’s a “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” joke that I wish they’d let me turn on the sound for. A draft of this script was written by Gabe Sachs & Jeff Judah, who worked on Freaks & Geeks and I guess are on 90210 now, trying to avoid writing a “Dukie returns!” episode. This could have been a good movie about being yourself, not trying to be cool, and the fact that simply walking into Mordor is a less hellish experience than middle school. It’s not, and so what we wind up with is a movie that really should have been called Diary of a Pre-Pubesecent Sociopath.
I’ve read a lot how child actors, the competent ones anyway, are wind-up dolls you can tell what to do and they’ll do it, and that you should feel bad for beating up on them in your reviews. Guess what? I’ve directed child actors, and while you don’t need to be Little Man Tate, there’s a skill level there that needs to be present, and that’s why I don’t feel bad singling out Zachary Gordon for his performance as the Wimpy Kid, aka “Greg Haffley.” We know his name is Greg Haffley because they say it a billion times. Greg is, in case you couldn’t guess, the sociopath of that alternate title I busted out up there.
Greg spends the entire runtime of Diary as an egomaniacal, self-obsessed little shithead. Are we supposed to think this is cute? I don’t. The “plot” of this movie hinges on Greg trying to get into his school yearbook’s “favorite” page, all the while ignoring and insulting his best friend. When said best friend wises up after Greg frames him for throwing children into a hole and terrorizing them (This happens, friends), we’re supposed to feel sad for Greg. I didn’t. I kept hoping that Greg would learn a valuable lesson and end the movie as at least something resembling a human being. He doesn’t. He grows a pair and takes the blame for something involving cheese near the end, but when it’s all over and he’s friends with his fat best friend again, I didn’t really get the sense that Master Gregory Haffley had learned a valuable lesson about not growing up to be Patrick Bateman.
Look, I suppose I could be missing some nuance in Gordon’s performance because I watched him without sound on. Maybe those lines weren’t supposed to come off as shitty as they did when the subtitles were on and all I had was Gordon’s smug face in glorious Blu-Ray. And maybe I really did get that kid actor I directed to swim on the first take.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is bad because it is a well-made movie. It’s the kind of movie we spent weeks tearing apart, movies that look unassuming on the surface but have some insidious, odious message in them. But in a weird way, I found myself thinking about this movie after the fact, thinking about how if I had kids, what would I ask them about this movie’s message? How would I use the movie as a discussion point, rather than just plopping them down in front of the TV or telling them “no, you can’t see it.” I don’t have kids, but if I do someday, that’s the approach I’d like to take as a parent.
Didn’t dig it. Don’t really have any desire to see it again. Kind of hate this movie.