Everyone sucks at being twelve years old. That’s not an opinion but a fact. The only variance is how they suck at it. A select few still behave like ten-year-olds. They dive in the mud, make asses out of themselves and fail to realize everyone else is laughing at them. Then again, another small group is keenly aware of this laughter and does everything they can to prevent it. They behave like fourteen-year-olds, which means a complete loss of the last two years of their lives in which they can do stupid, idiotic, amateurish things without real consequences. And the final group, the ones who actually act their ages are perhaps the worst off of all. They feel awkward, uneasy and uncomfortable most of the time. They’re not emotionally mature enough to hang out with the “older” kids, but they’re too socially aware for the “younger” kids. They all suck at it, which is why they might be the most underrepresented group on film.
Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is about those inept, clueless and underrepresented twelve-year-olds and because of that, it has no real plot. For most films, that meandering would be construed as directionless, but that’s not really the case here. In fact, the lack of purpose feels honest. What plot does the average twelve year old have in his or her life? A middle schooler’s routine pretty much consists of overblowing minor situations, speculating on whether someone likes him or her and hiding secrets from mom for the first time. Anything else would feel dishonest, which is why it’s such a letdown when Rodrick Rules feels the need to contrive over-the-top, embarrassing asides that would be at home in a bad Disney Channel original movie. Mostly, those moments are few and far between, but they’re still enough to kill the momentum and turn what could have been a good movie into average, run of the mill Hollywood fare.
Greg Heffely (Zachary Gordon) can’t get along with his older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick). They’ve been at each other’s throats practically forever, and after a mishap with a candy bar leads to Greg’s crush Holly (Peyton R. List) thinking he messed himself, all the animosity spills over at a communion-ruining fight at the local church. Disgusted, embarrassed and angry, the boys’ parents (Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn) force them to spend a weekend together all alone in the house to work out their differences. Rodrick throws a party. It’s a huge bust, at least until Greg’s best friend Rowley (Robert Capron), one of those “young” twelve year olds, coaxes the ladies onto the dance floor through his loveable and awkward incompetence. It’s a bonding moment for the siblings, one that caries through to the next morning as they frantically clean up before Mr. and Mrs. Heffely arrive home. There’s just one problem.
Someone has partied too hard and sprayed “Rodrick Rules” onto the bathroom door. In a bit of panicked genius, Greg and Rodrick switch the door with one in the basement, leading to one of my favorite side plots of the year. If you shut the bathroom door and suddenly realized there was no lock, would you suspect someone had switched out the door or would you think you’d gone crazy and that the door never had a lock to begin with? If you were the one who switched the door, how long could you continue assuring people there never was a lock without laughing?
Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules isn’t really about whether the brothers ever got busted for the party. Nor is it really about the talent show each wants to participate in during the third act. There are conclusions for each, of course, but mostly, Rodrick Rules is about a twelve year old slowly growing up. It doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it could be argued Greg never really grows up at all, but through his interactions with that Holly girl, his coming to terms with Rowley’s immaturity and yes, the party and the talent show, he certainly tries. I wouldn’t ask for anything more.
Throughout this review, I’ve perhaps been a little too kind to Diary Of A Wimpy Kid. If I have, it’s only because the film is mostly good-hearted and well put together. When it fails, it does so because it doesn’t trust viewers can actually sit through the life of a kid without stretching things. A little exaggeration is fine. The door is a good example of that, but the door still feels honest. Too many things about this movie don’t. For example: Greg goes to the roller rink and really wants to ask Holly to skate with him. He’s horrible on four wheels, but he gets up the nerve until his brother alters the slow music, bigger kids crash the rink and his mother takes to the loud speaker imploring Mr. Heffely to save his son. It’s a potentially sweet, uncomfortable moment ruined out of a need to force an unfair and fabricated laugh.
Most movies are uncomfortable in their own skin. It only makes sense one about a twelve-year old-would struggle with that same problem. The first offering in the Dairy Of A Wimpy Kid franchise was decent. This one is a little better than that. With talk of a third movie already being prepped, it’s my hope the series will relax and enjoy itself. Most kids are better at being thirteen anyway.