Greg Heffley is a brand new middle school student. This is his journal, not his diary. Or so he would have you believe. A wise-cracking middle child with an infant little brother and a wannabe rockstar bully highschool older brother, Greg enters middle school with all the male bravado he can muster, while yearning to survive the experience relatively unscathed.
Filled with an assortment of chuckles, a few laugh-out-loud moments, occasional inappropriate conduct and language, and also a few gross-out groaners, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is not an idealistic depiction of the awkward transition from childhood to the teen years. It is anything but that. That is its genius, and its cause for viewer discretion.
I have my share of quibbles with Diary. It depicts Greg’s dad as a buffoon, a tired theme ripped from the scripts of TV sitcoms from the past twenty years. It portays his mom as more self-aware, but still slightly nutty in that way which drives middle-schoolers nuts when their peers notice (another theme purloined from TV sitcom scripts).
There were not nearly as many attempts at simplistic moralism as I expected from a film of this type. Granted, I have never read more than a page or two of one of the original books, so I had little to go on besides previous my filmgoing experience. Indeed, Greg is portrayed as a complex character. He made bad decisions which negatively effected his closest friend and then blamed his friend. Worse, he let that same buddy take the blame for doing something which he did. I will not betray the details, but suffice it to say, it nearly killed their friendship.
What are we to make of this film? For me, it was painful to watch. Not in that humorous way which funny films have, causing me to double-over in laughter. No, it really wasn’t that hilarious, aside from a few moments interspersed throughout the story. It was painful because it peeled back the layers of preteen angst, revealing just a bit of the cruelty which many young people endure at the hands of their peers, their siblings, their school teachers (especially the PE teacher in this film), and even at times their parents. More profoundly, it revealed that even kids on the margins, the so-called wimpy kids, have complex motives and are prone to selfishness and ill-will.
The redemptive value in the relationships was far and few between. But there were potent moments worth noting. When Greg stood in for his buddy at the end, becoming the school pariah to save the relationship, and thus earning trust once again, it was a culimating moment in the story. And also, I might add, it earned him the respect of the cute school newspaper reporter girl, although he was still too young to appreciate that small detail.
There was also a cogent moment when Greg’s mother suggested that his choices determine his character.
Maybe that is the great take-away from Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Choices. Those who are considered wimpy kids are not strictly victims of bad peer behavior. They also have the ability to choose the nature of their responses which in turn molds their developing character. But I wonder who will model this brave new skill to them? Where are the moms, dads, and even older siblings who will step up to the plate on their behalf? Not to mention the people in the church and from the school who might make a difference.
It is a telling point about Greg that he appeared to have very little positive adult male influence in his life. I suspect the title of the books would have to change were that to happen. Maybe it would change to something like Diary of a Valiant Kid. Now that would be something worth considering….