“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules” is a faithful retelling of the source material, and it grasps the tone and flavor of the books. And that’s the problem. What works on the page for its youthful readers, plays very narrowly at the cinema. Like many parents, I read the Diary books in fits and starts with my 9 year-old. Even my 7 year-old daughter likes the stories. The books are chocked full of bathroom type humor (the kid-friendly variety) and insightful observations from its 6/7th grade protagonist, Greg. At times, I found myself searching for the hidden moral while reading the books. It’s there, just underneath layers of jokes that really only a kid can get.
And kids will likely “get” the movie adaptation “Rodrick Rules.” But adults will pick it apart and wonder, as I did, whether there was a redeeming value that makes it good viewing for children. Because at the root of this tale is a bit of whimsical fun—seventh grader style.
In “Rodrick Rules” Greg Heffley (Zackary Gordon) returns from summer vacation to enter the seventh grade. At a roller skating party, he comes in contact with new girl Holly Hills (Peyton List), and he’s immediately smitten with her. But Greg has no experience with girls; so, he turns to his high school brother Rodrick for advice. Of course, Rodrick torments Greg so much that Greg actually looks forward to going to school. The boys’ mother, Susan (Rachael Harris), devises a way to get them together by bribing them—every hour Greg and Rodrick spend together, they get a “mom buck” that can be cashed in on a real dollar. The scheming Rodrick sees it as a moneymaking venture and takes Greg on as his partner in crime.
“Rodrick Rules” is spotty with skits that work and many that don’t. The story is thin and formless pushed along by one comedic episode after the next. This structure is borrowed directly from the books that are really a graphic novel series of sorts with stick figure-like animation. And for the first half hour or so, I laughed but when the largely one-note story is told in that half hour, the rest of the feature-length film loses steam becoming stale. But younger boy viewers will probably dig it, especially as they match events on screen with those from their treasured books. And I mean “treasured.” Boys carry these diaries around with them in their school book bags and study the pages with great reverence.
But the movie versions of the best-selling tomes are hard to stomach for older viewers many of which will be ready to leave after a half-hour or so. And this gets right to the heart of things: Why make the Diary series a theatrical experience when the material is best suited for the “small” TV screen? Like its more charming predecessor “Rodrick Rules” can’t shake the feeling that its really just a television series exploited for the big screen. No matter how large the projector, you can’t get the television feel out of this “Diary.”
But back to the question that nagged me during the press screening: Does it matter that I didn’t get “Rodrick” when young boys will cheer the film? I suppose not, but parents will pay a larger ticket price to watch it with their children. This is one movie that you’ll have to endure for the sake of your kids.