The first three films in this series are surprisingly unpozzed: the original Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010), as well as its two sequels Rodrick Rules (2011) and Dog Days (2012). The overarching story is about Greg Heffley, a skinny middle-school kid, dealing with the anxieties of social life, his older brother’s villainy, and his first love. The tone of these movies is light. Greg frets of failing to keep up with the physical maturing of his peers but he isn’t particularly “wimpy” and weakness as such is not a theme in the stories.
There might be a spoiler or two below… but come on. You’re not gonna watch a preteen comedy for the suspense.
Like everything in pop culture, the Wimpy Kid movies will be imperfect. I watch these things with a jaundiced eye, and the unwholesome thing I’d point to in these films, would be a few scenes with boys on toilets or in their underwear. That may well be an innocuous artistic decision but given the pall over Pedowood, you presume guilt.
Other minuses, is that the dad is a passive idiot. He’s weirdly played by a handsome actor whose face for some reason always has a bizarre mongoloid grimace. The dad comes into his own in Dog Days, when he connects with Greg and stands up to his own nemesis.
The big one — Diversity — is almost nonexistent. There is a black extra or two in various scenes (like I said, the movie is not perfect). But the only colored character with a speaking part is a comic-relief Indian kid. In fact, not only is the school nearly all-White, but it’s our familiar faces everywhere, on down to country club waitstaff. Movies six to eight years ago weren’t as heavy-handed with diversity as they are now, but these first three Wimpy Kid films have the racial optics of Friends.
A satisfying irreverence toward feminism, personified by Greg’s obnoxious and tightly wound classmate Patti Farrell, is one of the films’ comic high points. She joins the boys’ wrestling team, triumphantly crowing about Title IX. Paired with her in practice, Greg has no idea what to do, fearing trouble should he get physical with a girl. In another scene, she imperiously invokes her mother’s position as PTA president to coerce a drama teacher into a concession.
There is, in fact, an Eighties feel about these films. The hard rock aesthetic is central, with Greg’s older brother Rodrick being the leader of an amateur heavy metal band. Hairstyles, even clothes in subtle ways, along with the mannerism, felt oddly and nicely retro in that sense.
Holly Hills is the love interest in the second and third film. In spirit with feel-good comedy, she is lovely and kind — and unrealistically available to an average boy like Greg. That’s poetic license, of course: where there is no alpha, there is no conflict over pretty girls, who in turn give unexceptional boys a chance to come into their own. Don’t take that as the script writer’s wish-fulfillment; if you remember your first feelings for girls at that age, you will see in Greg and Holly’s friendship your own formative idealization of the woman. When a boy still stands with one foot in innocence and one in desire, his first intimacy with a girl, and I’m not talking about physical contact as that is not in the story, is nothing less than his discovery of the female eros.
Another thing I liked, was the stories’ treatment of antagonists. What always sat wrong with me in American youth comedies, is that the bad guy was almost invariably annihilated, completely. Presumably to the audience’s catharsis, but not to my moral instinct. Watching those comedies back in my school-kid days, I thought, “OK, the guy is an asshole, but he’s just a teenager. Is it necessary to so viciously humiliate and destroy him?” I didn’t enjoy one-dimensional villains and always preferred man vs. man conflicts resolved with the two rivals reconciling and learning from one another. And in the Wimpy Kid movies, unsympathetic characters were handled fairly enough. For example, a threesome of older-teen bullies in a pick-up truck were the most egregious of malefactors, and they lived to drive another day. The harshest comeuppance is meted to a cartoonishly unpleasant girl, whose Sweet Sixteen party is ruined.
The first three Wimpy Kid movies have a few good lessons and moments of hilarity. The family is identified as Christian, having been shown attending church. The main characters and supporting crew are likeable: the GenX mom with her sexy librarian look, the effortlessly charismatic older brother, the chubby best friend with a twinkle in his eye, and others.
(I haven’t seen last year’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul yet. It has an all-new cast because the original actors had aged out of their roles.)