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It's said that laughter is contagious, and that a child's laughter is magic. What this means to you is that the best way to watch Diary of a Wimpy Kid is with a theater full of enthusiastic 5-10 year olds who know what's coming at every turn and revel in every booger and fart as if they were their own. Having the right audience will definitely affect your perception of the film, so surround yourself with the right people and get the most out of your ten bucks, or see it late on a school night and completely miss everything this movie tries to do: remind you what it's like to be in middle school trying your hardest to not suck.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid follows Greg Heffley, a shrimp who's a little behind the curve on his growth spurt, trying to make it in a world of genetically mutated preteens and the scariest beings known to sixth graders... girls. After failed attempts to change his friends and his life, Greg alienates himself from everyone, ruining any chance he had at landing himself on the middle school yearbook's 'class favorites' page.
The movie teaches kids one thing: as long as you have one grand gesture of redemption planned and the end of the year, you can spend all your time before then being the world's biggest douche. Even after Greg (and the audience for that matter) is slapped across the face with his mom's "it's the choices we make that make us who we are" line, Greg continues making the wrong decisions at every possible moment creating even bigger rifts between himself and his dorky friends, who are quite possibly the saving grace of the film. Greg's best friend Rowley is mentally stuck in elementary school, refusing to trade in his look, his "Joshie" bike, and his love for his mom for the fame and recognition the super-naive Greg keeps promising. He's hilariously oblivious to the real world and it almost always makes for some on-point under aged comedy. The "McLovin" of the group is Fregley, sporting glasses as big as his head and hair so red you could use him to light your way through an abandoned cave. Every line delivered by the young actor is comic gold. From something as simple as him sitting on the floor with the "cool kids", to seeing him loudly proclaim, shirt raised, that his secret mole has a hair in it, Fregley steals every scene he's in.
Skirting the edge of the group is Chloe Moretz as essentially the same character she plays in (500) Days of Summer, the voice of reason and guidance. The only difference is that in (500) Days she's charming and adorable guiding her lost brother through his bad times, and in Diary of Wimpy Kid she comes off as a bit of a pretentious know-it-all, mostly thanks to the fact the when she first appears she's reading Howl and spouting off lines about four years too old for her. She's 13 in the real world and could play 20 if she wanted too, which makes the idea of her playing a 12-year-old seventh grader a little ridiculous. She'll be perfect for her role in Let Me In, but here they should have hired someone a little bit younger in age and/or demeanor for this.
There's a fun blend of animation in with the live action to give the film a bit more congruency with the best selling book by Jeff Kinney. Watching the animation draw itself onto the screen never feels distracting, forced, or overdone. It's used just the proper amount to remind young kids exactly what they're watching, and convey certain emotions and actions that work best when told through stick figures. Beyond that, the film is cinematically standard, taking no risks with the camera or the lighting, but why would it? Director Thor Freudenthal (awesome name) aimed his story at kids who don’t care about cross processing a print, or filming scenes at a dutch angle. All they came to see was Greg Heffley worry about the 'cheese touch' and navigate his way through his first year of middle school, so that's what they got.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid never reaches past the level of a kids movie. Sometimes there are smart bits of dialog and there's one or two moments that will have you laughing even if you're by yourself, but this movie targets little kids, and it hits the nail on the head. It's fun, witty, and most of all a reminder that no matter how old we are, we were kids once, and most of us went through the same thing Greg, Rowley, and Fregley are going through in one way or another. The movie does absolutely nothing that's going to revolutionize the way you think about kids films, it's not Pixar for the gods' sake. But what it does do is make every little kid that gets sat in front of it laugh, and sometimes that's all a movie really needs to do.