Greg Heffley is a journal-keeping wisecracker who's just trying to somehow survive the hazing, harassing and general horror of … middle school. But unlike all those other half-size sojourners, Greg has a plan: If he's got to go through this torturous time, he's gonna do so in style. His body may be small, but he's sure his brain is huge. And with a little creative planning and some pecking order manipulation he'll be at the top of the social ladder in no time.
The plan has to work. It's his only hope since his home is no safe refuge. Between a sadistic older brother (Rodrick) who would rather rub his nasty armpits on Greg's face than actually talk to him, and an un-potty-trainable kid brother who gets all of his parent's adoring attention, Greg feels lost in the wasteland of tween obscurity.
His first "look at me" attempt school-side, though, doesn't work out so well. Being a wrestling team sports hero is tougher than it looks. Especially since runny-nosed outcasts and pigtailed girls can toss him to the mat with ease. Even his overweight and completely hopeless best friend ends up getting more positive attention than he does.
So it's on to the next idea. And the next. But each can't-miss scheme somehow keeps blowing up in his face. Until the unthinkable happens: Greg contracts a horrible case of … nuclear cooties.
Although Greg rolls his eyes, his best friend Rawley has a childlike innocence that he brings to most situations. Rawley says his mom told him to "be myself and people will like me." Greg, however, retorts with, "That would be good advice if you were someone else." The point is clear, though: Rawley's mom is right. Rawley is a devoted friend willing to always believe the best in people, even though Greg usually doesn't return the sentiment. Rawley selflessly puts himself in harm's way to help his friend escape Rodrick's wrath.
More life lessons emerge when, later in the film, Rawley finally realizes Greg has lied and purposely set him up for a fall. Rawley sadly admits, "You're not a good friend." After the friendship dissolves, Greg's mom encourages her son to make amends, saying, "When somebody's worth it, you have to put yourself out there." And Greg eventually realizes the error of his ways and steps up to save Rawley's reputation and regain his friendship. A girl, watching from the sidelines, then steps up to support Greg's good choice with, "Not bad, Heffley. Not bad."
Rawley is punished by a teacher for something he didn't do. But once the truth comes out, the teacher apologizes and rewards Rawley for his positive choices.
Despite the fact that Greg thinks his parents are pretty uninvolved with him, they do offer him support and good advice. Dad encourages Greg, praising him for his initiative and hard work. And Mom says, "You have to trust your gut and do the right thing … because it's our choices that shape us."
A girl adds perspective to the pain when she asserts that in a few years all the horrendous things that really upset kids when they're in middle school "won't mean anything anymore."
Greg looks for popularity guidance in his brother's yearbook, saying, "This thing is like a Bible." Rodrick scares Greg and Rawley with a Halloween story about a local woods full of devil worshippers.
While digging under Rodrick's bed for a yearbook, Greg finds a Moto Mamas magazine that sports a cover photo of a buxom, bikini top-wearing model sitting on a motorcycle. Greg uses the mag to get Rodrick in trouble by giving it to their little brother, Manny. (Mom catches Manny looking at the pictures.)
Greg imagines himself as a muscular, swimsuit-wearing adult. At a school dance Greg's mom's dress reveals cleavage. And Rawley and his mom perform a dance routine that includes slapping their backsides.
In Pig Latin, boys talk about a girl classmate being "hot." Puzzled, Greg and Rawley discuss how girls can think butts are "cute." Rawley then innocently tells another boy that his butt is cute.
Greg and Rawley fall victim to several kid-level pratfalls. For instance, though Greg imagines himself performing pro wrestling moves on fellow students, he's actually the one who gets thumped. A nerdy kid and a girl named Patty, Greg's archenemy, both pound Greg to the mat repeatedly during wrestling practice—including arm-twisting, face-mashing and a kick to Greg's crotch. The kids' gym teacher demonstrates mat-slamming wrestling moves on a fellow coach.
The boys get pushed and banged around on the school sports field as well. One skinny kid is tackled by a group of bigger boys. While dressed as a tree in a school play Greg is pummeled with apples and tackled by Patty. Another kid dressed as a tree falls face-first and reports that he broke a tooth. Teenagers spray Greg and Rawley with a foam-spewing hose, then chase the boys, threatening to beat them up. Greg accidentally scrapes a large swath of paint off the teens' truck with a weed whacker.
Greg hits the front wheel of Rawley's speeding Big Wheel, sending his friend flying in the air. We then see Rawley in a cast with a broken wrist. Greg draws a stick figure cartoon of a boy who has his foot eaten away in a pool of acid.
Crude or Profane Language
Kids blurt out everything from "jeez" to "crap," with "good god" and "freak job" layered in between. Rodrick takes things a step further, calling his sibling a "turd burglar" and a "tool."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Diary of a Wimpy Kid sports two rather sizable pools of negative junk: a lake of poor choices and an ocean of toilet jokes.
From time to time we're reminded that choices matter and that good ones lead to good results, but too often the bad variety is there just for laughs or gags. Greg lies to his mother. And he repeatedly mistreats and speaks badly of his friend Rawley. For instance, when given safety patrol duties, Greg forces little kids into a muddy hole at a construction site. A neighbor sees and thinks it was Rawley who did the deed. Greg lets his friend take the blame. Greg also lets a hyperactive kid eat his bag full of jelly beans—which sends the kid into a frenzy. He once hurt Patty's feelings by yelling, "Patty, Patty is a fatty, has a face just like a ratty."
And he's not the movie's only kid exuding negative peer pressure. A teen forces Rawley to scrape a rancid piece of cheese off the ground and take a bite. Patty spends a fair amount of time terrorizing Greg. Rodrick tells his brother to never volunteer for or work hard at anything ("That way no one will expect anything of you").
Toilet humor, on the other hand … is dripping on the other hand and everything else. Manny sits at the breakfast table on his baby potty and lets loose during breakfast. And that's only one of several, uh, running urine gags—from peeing snowmen to a scene involving a surprised Greg who turns and urinates all over his brother. We see middle school students sitting on toilets in doorless stalls—a sight that prompts Greg to say, "I'm not pooping 'til I'm in high school."
From there we visit various other mucous-picking and gaseous-release moments that don't really bear repeating.
When author Jeff Kinney's best-selling series of Wimpy Kid novels started hitting bookshelves in 2007, they hooked young readers with a fun comic-book-meets-novel blend. Each edition contained short, sharply funny tales and winsomely appealing stick figure drawings. Each was presented as if it were Greg Heffley's doodle-covered journal. Each could be read through in an afternoon.
Some parents and kids loved the novels' acerbic take on tweens' tribal travails. Others felt the central character fell well shy of a good role model.
"I can definitely respect the argument that Greg is flawed," Kinney said in a wickedlocal.com interview. "In fact, that's where all of the humor of the book comes from—his flaws and imperfections. I think that parents that complain about that aren't getting the joke, and don't realize that their kids understand that Greg isn't perfect, and that's what makes him funny."
Does it? On film, at the very least, the answer is emphatically no. Greg is wincingly clueless about how his bad choices can impact family and friends, and when those choices are made by a flesh-and-blood kid on a giant movie screen instead of a little pencil drawing in a pseudo-journal, everything takes on a much more negative feel.
That's particularly true when Wimpy Kid veers into an obsession with body functions and fluids. Seeing a stick figure accidentally peeing on his brother or sitting on a school toilet is quite a different experience from seeing kid actors doing the same thing in living color. And when those embarrassing bits are mixed with an endless goopy stream of booger-urine-poop-fart jokes, you very quickly begin longing for a notebook of your own to keep you otherwise occupied.
On the way out of the screening I attended, I overheard an adult comment that 20 years ago Diary of a Wimpy Kid might have been his favorite film. And while I had a distinct feeling he was being very generous, I sort of understood. I remember a point in my life when the movie's "this too shall pass" encouragement to kids and its friend-reclaiming ending would have seemed thoughtful. I also remember a brief window of time when the mere mention of the word pee would have left me doubled over in childish laughter. I'm not so easily impressed anymore. And it might be that kids these days aren't either.
This little conversation also drifted in my direction after the film: A mom asked her 6-year-old escort, "Did you like it, big guy?" The tyke screwed up his brow and replied, "Uh … no."
Maybe we just have a better grade of kids today. And if that's true, it's high time we made a better grade of film for them to see.