DIARY OF A WIMPY KID Review: A real middle school charmer…

Based on the best-selling series of books, DIARY OF A WIMPY KID is a nice start to what will no doubt be a popular movie franchise. Feeling a lot like the best of TV’s MALCOM IN THE MIDDLE, DIARY gets better as it progresses delivering family-friendly entertainment that will charm youngsters and teens alike.

Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) is just about to enter middle school. He’s got specific ideas how he’s going to reinvent himself in this new environment. Folks familiar with the books, that are very much like graphic novels (stories told in cartoons), will know that Greg struggles with his best friend, Rowley (Robert Capron), who has not mentally left elementary school. Greg wants to be considered mature and to him that means being cool. But in this middle school Greg and Rowley are at the bottom of the food chain. And Greg is almost the smallest kid in his class. Thank goodness for little Chirag Gupta (Karan Brar), Greg admits in one of his diary entries.

Much of the film is narrated by Greg, who speaks directly to the camera. This technique, which is not overused here, works, especially since the source material is a diary, that Greg defends as really a “journal.” What the movie does very well is integrate the book’s cartoons, Greg’s annotated journal scribblings, into the movie’s narrative, even making the artwork part of the story-line. And the film is well cast – the actors fit well into writer Jeff Kinney’s world.

Like I mentioned earlier, the movie feels very much like a feature length television series episode, however, by the film’s conclusion, a movie version of this book is clearly justified. The sweet story gets better as it progresses and the conclusion is truly heart-warming. But the movie is as sincere as it is funny. Adults, who all were once middle schoolers, will relate and take great joy in the profound observations Greg makes about his life. One sequence that can be seen in this week’s Film Fix episode might make a smelly piece of cheese, left on the black-top on the playground, infamous, likely to become part of the popular middle school lexicon.

And it’s great to see Steve Zahn in the role of the goofy father, Frank Heffley. Although we see very little of him in the film, this is a character that Zahn should continue in future films. I had the pleasure of talking with the likeable actor a couple years ago about his fine work in Werner Herzog’s fantastic RESCUE DAWN. Zahn is an actor I would like to see take on more substantial less comedic roles. In DIARY, he’s given one of the film’s best lines – the kind of scene that will endear the film with fathers everywhere.

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID is the kid-friendly movie that middle school boys have been waiting for. A goofy, heart-felt romp through all things tween boy, ages 10 to 14 will rally around Greg, Rowley, and their adventures in finding their place in the world.

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