I begrudge the time and money I spent taking my two sons, ages 10 and 7, to see this film. Most of the charm of the book series comes from seeing the sketches from Greg, the “wimpy” kid. The film didn’t place a big emphasis on these sketches. Instead we view scenes mainly from a fly on the wall perspective at the middle school and in Greg’s home.
Some scenes were very scary for my 7-year old, and unpleasant for my older son and for me: Greg’s older brother, Rodney, threatening “I am literally going to kill you”, and telling Greg his planned trick-or-treating route passes the site of where children had been put into an oven. Another dispiriting scene has Greg and his best friend Rowley relegated to eating their lunch on the cafeteria floor when no one is willing to let them sit at their table.
The plot of the film is purportedly Greg’s strategies to become “someone” in middle school society. In his single-minded quest, he distances himself from chubby Rowley whenever he thinks it serves him. And to me, this is the saddest part. When Greg is observed coming up short on his job as a safety patrol, Rowley is reported instead since Greg was wearing Rowley’s jacket at the time. Alerted to the situation, Greg lets his Mom know only that he has a decision to make that could hurt someone. She advises him that our decisions make us who we are. In spite of this advice, Greg chooses to let Rowley be the fall guy. Later when Greg matter-of-factly tells Rowley that he it was he who actually fell short on his duty, it’s Rowley who has the truest moment of the film as he tells Greg that he has not been a friend.
In a way this film really belongs to Rowley. Rowley moves up in middle school society by being optimistic and by being himself. He gains positive attention when he wins the competition to be the replacement cartoonist for the school newspaper. He is reinstated with a promotion to the school safety squad when the safety patrol director discovers the truth about the patrol incident with Greg. And he makes a splash when he dances with his Mom at the Mother Son Dance. Rowley is someone we can all feel good about – a cheerful underdog who wins out in the end.
A wimpy kid might be funny. In the movie, Greg comes across as a coward, and that really isn’t funny.