The appeal of the Wimpy Kid series – the films at least (I haven’t had the pleasure of reading Jeff Kinney’s books) – is that the misadventures of the hero never seem all that exaggerated. They take place in a plausible reality, one that’s familiar and relatable to anyone who’s ever felt insecure upon approaching an inevitably rocky adolescence. And if anyone seems bound for a tumultuous pre-adulthood, it’s Greg Heffley, an average Joe kind of guy around whom more colorful characters exist and outrageous, yet believable, incidents take place.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
By Matthew Huntley
August 13, 2012
As a coming-of-age tale, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days is not a terribly insightful film, but it’s not without insight. It works as a silly and light-hearted family comedy because it’s genuinely funny and there’s an underlying truth to what happens in it. Plus, it doesn’t sell its characters (or the audience) short by choosing only to be about things that are gross, gooey and embarrassing like so many other kiddie flicks. It has those elements, but they’re not what the movie’s about.
What the movie is about is the idealism that comes along with being 13-years-old and, in this particular case, wanting to enjoy the perfect summer vacation. That’s what Greg (Zachary Gordon) sets out to do. He’s got one more year of junior high ahead of him and wants to make this summer count. Deep down, maybe he thinks this could be his last chance to live carefree before the real meat of adolescence kicks in and he has to deal with a plethora of new and confusing emotions, or, God forbid, get a job!
For Greg, the perfect summer vacation means staying inside and playing video games all day with only soda and chips at his side. But his dad (Steve Zahn) wants him to be more constructive, by either playing outdoors or getting an internship. Greg thinks he can get out of it if he stays just one step ahead of his dad, with whom he’s starting to realize he has very little in common. The film does a good job of depicting the awkwardness that’s often felt between a boy on the verge of manhood and a father who doesn’t quite know how to communicate with him.
To keep his dad at bay, not to mention his mom (Rachel Harris), who’s decided to start a “Reading is Fun!” club, Greg lies and says he has a job at his pal Rowley’s (Robert Capron) country club. He goes there every day and enjoys swimming, drinking smoothies and hanging out with the pretty Holly (Peyton List). But his older brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostick), is onto him, and to keep his ruse going, Greg is forced to sneak Rodrick in through the back. He’s looking to promote his band and impress Holly’s older sister (Melissa Roxburgh).
And so the perfect summer begins. Only it’s not the perfect summer - not when reality kicks in and Greg discovers things don’t always go according to plan, especially when you lie and deceive your friends and family. He also learns it’s a lot harder to accept your parents being disappointed in you than simply yell at you. There’s a strong scene in the middle of the film related to this where Steve Zahn’s acting proves the movie isn’t all mindless fun and games, which is something older viewers will appreciate. Younger ones may even learn from it.
The movie also faithfully re-creates some of those awkward (yet funny) coming-of-age moments that all kids eventually face, like having to look down or away in the men’s locker room; or enduring your friend’s parents when it’s obvious they don’t like you; or bunking in the same room with someone who snores. Such things unfortunately don’t get easier with age, but at least we can see the humor in them.
Dog Days is no masterpiece, but it wins us over on a couple levels: 1) as a breezy family comedy with a few sharp moments of humility and slapstick; 2) as a semi-perceptive fable about those prepubescent years when your voice hasn’t fully changed, you feel ugly and you start to realize it’s inevitable you’re going to grow further apart from your parents. At this point, there may be room for one more Wimpy Kid movie with the current cast (there are a total of seven books so far), but after that, I’d say it’s time to move on, because I can’t envision Diary of a Wimpy Teenager being as clean or family friendly.