Monday, March 22, 2010

Too Cool for Middle School: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Movie

"You'll be dead or home schooled by the end of the year!"

It's his first day of middle school, and big brother Rodrick just has to scare the living daylights out of Greg Heffley.

It's out, at long last, the movie based on Jeff Kenney's mega-best-selling Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which transforms a comic novel in, yes, comic form, into a live-action movie featuring plain old actors and actress, and actually does it rather well.

Many of the genuinely big laughs from the book make the transfer to live action seamlessly, reinforced by occasional combinations of Kinney's comic drawings and the live characters on screen together. Director Thor Freudenthal (Hotel for Dogs) consciously chose to omit or integrate many of Greg's humorous musings into a plotline--dealing with the shocks to the friendship of Greg and grade school friend Rowley Jefferson as they hit the social rough spots of middle school--on the way to the required happy fadeout which he tacks on to Kinney's book. Still, the ending, while not exactly there in the text, doesn't stray too far from the sense of the story.

The casting is inspired, with everyone from Rodrick to Fregley coming off exactly as author Kinney conceived them. Devon Bostick is a standout as big brother Rodrick, drummer of the self-important garage band Loded Diper, who plays the downright wicked prankster with apparent relish, for example, shaking poor Greg awake at 4 a.m. to tell him he's late for his first day at middle school. Robert Capron is spot on as the chubby and unconsciously uncool Rowley, Greg's best friend, and Grayson Russell virtually upstages everyone with his manic portrayal of neighborhood weird kid Fregley. Zach Gordon as Greg plays his straight-man role well, toeing the fine line between portraying his character as an insecure, but bravura six-grader and the self-serving jerk that Greg sometimes is.

There are plenty of laughs for audiences of all ages here. Kids who have read the books (and most of Kinney's fans have read each one multiple times) may lament the loss of favorite episodes and laugh lines and resent the film footage devoted to the necessities of structure that moviemaking demands. Kids who haven't read the books (if there are any of those left in North America) will love the film and probably head off to their nearest bookstore or library to pick up the books soon.

Kids who both like the books (four in the series so far) and the movie will enjoy reading about the making of the movie in The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) (Amulet, 2010), describing the scripting, story-boarding, casting, and shooting of the movie itself. With so much great material in the remaining books to work with, it's likely there will be more on-screen sequels to this one down the line

Diary of A Wimpy Kid is rated PG and runs 93 minutes.

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