Why Diary of a Wimpy Kid? Because you're never too old for a good booger joke.
Jeff Kinney's irreverent illustrated novel about one tween's nightmare middle school experience comes to the big screen with all its boogers, bullies, bad decisions and maybe a few more trips to the toilet than you'll remember.
Zachary Gordon brings a bubbly, confused cockiness to writer Kinney's alter-ego, Greg Heffley, a shrimp who starts middle school with delusions of being popular, successful, a "class favorite." He narrates his experiences with illustrations (animated in the film) in his diary.
He tries to change and then shake his too-nerdy/too-childish best friend, Rowley, (Robert Capron) and avoids the girl who beat him up and the girl who wants him to join the school newspaper (a tarted-up Chloe Grace Moretz). And he ignores the advice of his comically abusive older brother (Devon Bostick, perfect).
"Don't talk to anyone. Don't look at anyone. Don't choose the wrong locker. Don't ..."
Thor Freudenthal, the director of Hotel for Dogs, and four screenwriters follow Greg through a year of Halloween mishaps, snow-day accidents, class-play fiascoes and avoiding "the cheese" — a slice of Swiss that has sat on the playground for years, growing moldier, funkier and more legendary by the day.
Kinney's wry books, blessed with the profundity of hindsight, carry the message that the stuff kids sweat about during those tween years is mostly nonsense blown way out of proportion, and the movie retains that. A message about the friend you're too cool for being better than you deserve is sweet.
But the filmmakers miss their chances to score comic points with the adult cast. Central Kentucky resident Steve Zahn, playing the semi-hapless dad, is the only funny "name" in the bunch. Plainly, they put the time and money into casting the kids, which for the most part pays off. Only Moretz ((500) Days of Summer) seems out of place in a movie in which the boys aren't yet noticing the girls, and vice versa.
Crass, gross and juvenile in all the best (and worst) ways, Diary is aimed squarely at a tween demographic. And if you don't get it, maybe you're just too old for a good booger joke.