Amiable ‘Wimpy Kid’ nails the details of grade school life

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, March 18, 2010 12:27pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Like most kids entering middle school, Greg Heffley has a tragically erroneous idea of where he fits in the pecking order. He’s got a list in his head, and he figures he might be somewhere around No. 19 in a class of 200.

The brutal reality of his status is explored in “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” a genial comedy based on Jeff Kinney’s books of comic strips. Greg, played in the movie by Zachary Gordon, thinks a little more highly of himself than he should — and that’s the source of much of the movie’s humor.

On the surface, we’re in the usual territory of such stories: Greg has a terrorizing older brother (Devon Bostick), a bothersome younger brother and folks (Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris) who conform to the customary parental roles: Dad’s bumbling, Mom’s efficient.

At school, Greg’s energies are focused on which moves might enhance this place on the ladder. Going out for the wrestling team turns out to be a big mistake, especially when he is paired against a girl in his weight class.

The biggest albatross around his neck is his chunky best friend Rowley (Robert Capron), who’s like a junior version of the John Candy character from “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”

Rowley says the most mortifying things in front of other kids. He actually asks Greg if he wants to come over and “play,” forgetting that the middle school term is “hang out.” How many times does Greg have to repeat these things?

As lightweight as this movie is, it is pretty truthful about the world of grade school. The clueless adults, the hierarchy of kids, the mysteries (what’s the story on that rotting piece of Swiss cheese in the playground?).

“Diary” is directed by the awesomely named Thor Freudenthal, who previously did the raucous “Hotel for Dogs.” This one’s much better and squarely in the vein of “The Wonder Years,” which means it should go over with adults as easily as it does with kids.

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