Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules
Just 53 weeks after audiences first embraced adorably awkward 6th-grader Greg Heffley, the titular "wimp"—who's now shuffling proudly off to 7th grade—is back, along with his best friend, the lovable lug Rowley Jefferson, for another round of painful middle school hijinks.
This time the pain comes courtesy of the interloper lurking in the title: big brother Rodrick, who's determined to undermine Greg's attempts to woo a pretty new girl at school named Holly Hills. As for Rodrick's so-called "rules," well, that word refers to at least three different things:
1) Rodrick rules! As in, this rebellious, mascara-wearing wannabe heavy metal drummer is pretty cool—at least in his own mind. And, it turns out, in the mind of one person who scrawls those words on a bathroom door at a wild party Rodrick throws.
2) Rodrick rules … his little brother. For much of the film, high school-age Rodrick positively delights in tormenting poor Greg, whom he sneeringly derides as a nerd and a wimp.
3) Rodrick lives by his own narcissistic rules, a self-serving code of delinquency calculated to deliver him from every responsibility his parents might hope to saddle him with.
Speaking of parents, Susan and Frank pretty much split the difference between emotionally engaged and out to lunch when it comes to their boys. Susan desperately wants Rodrick and Greg to be friends … so much so that she decides to pay them a buck for each hour they spend together without fighting.
And when things seem to be going swimmingly between the feuding bros—never mind that they're really not—Mom and Dad decide to head out of town for the weekend, leaving Greg and Rodrick to take care of each other.
Just like this movie, that's a BIG mistake.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules strives be a fun, frivolous family film with a heart of gold. It partially fulfills that calling.
Susan Heffley is often unaware of how her sons are lying to her and/or manipulating her. But she understands that their relationship is important, and she'd do anything to get them to like and trust each other. When it comes out that the brothers threw a massive unsupervised party at the house, Mom and Dad at least try to impose consequences: Greg is grounded for two weeks with no video games; Rodrick is grounded for a month, which means he's being told he won't be able to play with his band, Löded Diper, in the upcoming community talent contest. (Note that only partial credit for intent can be given here because the punishments don't hold. More on that later.)
Frank is concerned that his eldest son's desire to be a rock star will likely lead to disappointment … and unemployment. Accordingly, Dad tries (without success) to convince Rodrick that the new guitarist the band has recruited is a case study in arrested development.
If there's one character who consistently serves as the film's moral center, it's Rowley. Greg's overweight best friend doesn't like doing things he knows are wrong. After the party, Rodrick instructs Greg to "deny, deny, deny" when Mom and Dad question them about what happened. Rowley, however, rightly says that the strategy sounds more like "lie, lie, lie."
Not surprisingly, Rowley's parents do a better job at setting and enforcing appropriate limits. Twice, Rowley's stern-faced father shows up to collect his son when Greg drags him into trouble. And Greg has to apologize to Rowley and his dad for showing a scary movie at a sleepover.
Popular and pretty Holly is a levelheaded sort who, like Greg, is a middle child. She offers him advice on how to deal with conflict with an older sibling and reassures him that it will all turn out OK.
The Heffleys go to church and are shown trying to take communion there. (Again, more on that later.)
At the party, Rowley is the surprise center of attention and two older girls plant kisses on his cheeks simultaneously. The movie Greg and Rowley watch during their sleepover is a spoof horror flick called The Foot. Its heroine is shown in a nightgown and in bed.
Pratfalls and scuffles. Greg and Rodrick push and shove at each other several times. Greg falls on a birthday cake. Rowley's backside lands squarely on Greg's face. Greg and Rowley watch a YouTube video that shows an elderly woman falling off a stage.
While filming their own video, Rowley sits on a toothpick-filled ball. And we watch as a toothpick is subsequently pulled from his backside. Rodrick drives recklessly with his little brother and Rowley rolling around in back. The Foot shows that detached and reanimated body part trying to shove itself up a woman's nose.
Crude or Profane Language
"Oh my god" is uttered three or four times, as is "what the heck?" Unkind labels include "chunky cheese," "doofus," "jerk" and "butt-brain." Oh, and, of course, "wimp." Somebody says "you suck."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Greg films Rowley lip-synching a portion of Ke$ha's hit song "TiK ToK," and we watch as he mouths the line, "Brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack." Susan and Frank drink wine with another couple.
Other Negative Elements
Other may not be the best way to frame things here. You could almost say that this review actually begins here.
The party: There's apparently no alcohol at Rodrick's party—the camera repeatedly shows high schoolers drinking soda. But it begins with him locking Greg in the basement, and it's clearly modeled after an alcohol-fueled bash. Rodrick guzzles soda and plays a drinking game. Two revelers unload aerosol whipped cream cans into their mouths. "Rodrick Rules" is scrawled on the bathroom door. Furniture gets moved outside. Peanut butter sandwiches are affixed to the ceiling. One kid is still sleeping behind the couch the next morning.
Rodrick and Greg repeatedly lie to their mom about what happened at the party. And then Greg manipulates her into not killing them by "promising" that he'll work on his relationship with Rodrick. Even after some discipline gets meted out, Greg again manipulates his mom into letting Rodrick perform with Löded Diper at the talent show anyway.
The rules: Rodrick eventually divulges his "secret of the good life" to Greg. The first rule is "Don't be good at something you don't want to do." (To illustrate we see the pair rubbing very dirty water on the family car, which makes Dad decide to do the job himself.) The second rule prompts kids to "Always lower Mom and Dad's expectations." (Greg tells his parents he thought he'd get an F on an assignment, then says he was happy to find he only got a C-minus.) The third rule? "Never do something when someone else can do it for you." (Greg applies this little pearl by turning in a history paper that Rodrick had written … and gets an F.)
The stains: En route to church, Greg sits in chocolate. To cover the stain he wears a colorful scarf around his backside—which Rodrick intentionally steps on and yanks off while walking up to the communion table. A girl yells "Poop! He's pooped his pants in church!" Greg amplifies the awfulness of the scene by merrily announcing, "It's chocolate," running his finger across his rear, then licking them. A melee with Rodrick ensues.
The underwear: Frank and Susan send their boys to spend a weekend with Grandpa at his retirement home. There, Rodrick reads Greg's diary and threatens to tell Holly about it. (She's also there visiting her grandfather.) Greg, wearing only underwear and socks, chases his brother through the complex trying to get the diary away from him. And Rodrick later blackmails Greg with the security camera tape showing both London and France.
After that ruckus, Greg hides in a locker room that—too late—he realizes isn't the men's locker room. He watches with horror as a pair of panties falls around the ankles of an elderly woman in the stall next to him. Another woman sees him peeking through a crack and accuses him of being a "pervert" and a "peeping Tom."
The truth: Mom wants Greg to be more honest. Greg obliges … by telling the truth in mean ways, such as "informing" his grandfather that he'll be dead soon.
The rest: Other gags involve exclamations about farting, spitting out pizza, spitting out milk, Rodrick smelling his armpit and then shoving it in his mom's face, Rowley wearing Greg's (used) underwear on his head, a pigeon pooping on people's heads, a boy shoving carrots up his nose, and a game in which Rodrick and Greg flirt with vandalism by putting a piece of plastic vomit on people's cars and waiting for them to react. Greg responds to a friend's mean comment by pretending he doesn't exist. In anger, Rodrick vows to Greg, "You're my brother. You'll never be my friend."
Löded Diper guitarist Bill brags that the rock lifestyle involves "rockin' deep into the night and partying all day."
Last year's Diary of a Wimpy Kid transmuted its modest $15 million budget into $64 million in North American box office gold (and another $11 million internationally). That five-fold return on investment explains why the franchise's stewards wasted no time cranking out a second big-screen installment of the popular kids' book series.
And what they've cranked out offers a case study in how you can ostensibly pursue a family-friendly formula—avoiding explicit inclusions of sex, drugs, profanity and violence—yet still create a movie that's about as appropriate for young audiences as a 4th-grade school teacher lecturing on proctology.
Greg and Rodrick's parents seem to mean well, and it'd be cruel to say they didn't care about their youthful charges. But they're too often saturated with predictable sitcom-style cluelessness, and they're too easily manipulated by their too-smart kids. Even when Mom tries to enforce real consequences, for example, she gets talked out of following through in the name of facilitating the movie's feel-good ending. Then she gets up onstage and shakes 'n' shimmies to the sounds of … Löded Diper.
Not only are there no real penalties for Rodrick's and Greg's poor choices, the movie serves up some comedic-yet-dubious messages about what's normal for 7th graders and high schoolers. Secretly watching movies your parents don't approve of? Check. Having a huge soiree when aforementioned parents naively leave you home for the weekend? Check. Turning in your brother's paper and hoping the teacher won't notice? Check. Leaving fake vomit on people's cars just to get a reaction? Check. Putting your best friend's underwear on your head and filming it in hopes that you'll become the next viral YouTube sensation?
I suspect that we're intended to guffaw uncritically at such silly shenanigans. After all, everything works out just fine in the end. Right? No harm, no foul, just some "good" laughs about "kids being kids." Right? Rodrick's just a slightly misguided but ultimately loveable young rogue. Right? And Greg's just a nerdy boy trying to figure it all out.