Film · Review · Uncategorized

Some Cold Takes – Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

I remember when I was much younger and we’d visit our grandmother’s house she’d rent us some VHSs from the nearby Blockbuster. She insisted though that she would only rent ‘proper’ films for us, not cartoons. Didn’t realise that the talent wasn’t working in live action anymore. Watched a lotta shitty kids movies round her place, but then again her back room with the poorly tuned television was also the first time we watched Fellowship of the Ring so I can’t totally hold that policy against her.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul reminds me of a lot of those films. Bad, broken, frustrating and pretty much written off as a lost cause by everyone involved.

There’s nuance to some of the garbage here though: flick has some of the weirdest performances I seen all year. Might be because all the leads have been recast for what is now the fourth film in the franchise so the actors ain’t got that attachment to the characters, perhaps a director who has had a career primarily in animation don’t quite know how to pull the goods out of his actors, the lack of cohesive tone leading them astray.

Like, the Wimpy Kid himself, played by Jason Drucker, acts like he’s heavily medicated most of the time. Not good form to dump on a child actor, and sometimes his choices actually work, but if he’s not screaming getting anything to register across that face is a titanic struggle. There’s this point where he has to do a series of comic need-to-piss faces lad just do the same face four times, come on dude.

I suspect then the other leads heard the director telling him to go bigger and responded in kind. Biggest offender is Charlie Wright, playing older brother Roderick, his line delivery is solid for a younger actor so long as he’s not being asked to play stupid, all of his attempts at physical comedy are concerning. His physicality is often so manical and unconstrained you’re worried for him, he at one point is supposed to mime performing a drum solo and his body explodes in this totally unrecognisable fashion, doing sixteen things at once, too much of him all at once to pick out where the comedy is. At the same time, he’s taking this douchebag, older brother, metalhead type stereotype but imbues him with this real fey queer aesthetic which, outside of his young actor inexperience, makes the character super compelling to watch, he’s always got something going on.

Then you got mom, Alicia Silverstone, who is just amazing. The script, written by original author of the book series Jeff Kinney and director David Bowers, obviously will give the one woman in the film no defining characteristics outside of her shrewishness. Silverstone knocks it outta the fucking park though. She got a far better hit rate then her co-stars, lifts this character off the page and, despite committing to this real broad comic bit actually manages to summon a whole human being onto the screen, she legit so good here.

The film basically a road trip movie, but like an incompetent one. Its first crime is how inexpertly it sets up the character motivations. Mom wants them to get to their grandmother’s in time for her birthday. Greg wants them to divert so he can get to a video game expo. Roderick and Dad are just sorta there. There no recognisable conflict in this movie, and the interstitial stories along the journey go nowhere towards having them achieve their goals.

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The gaming expo is the most interesting part here, largely because the thing written by two old dudes who got literally no idea. Early on in the film Greg becomes the subject of an embarrassing meme. He and the film are convinced it’ll never go away, let’s be honest, it’s a shit tier meme. If this meme got any traction whatsoever it’d be dead within two days. Greg decides the way to recover his image is to appear on camera with a popular Let’s Player, which is why he gotta get to the convention.

The dude is a particularly ungenerous impression of JackSepticEye. There’s no confusing it. If I were the dude I’d be pretty pissed off about it. These folks so outta touch. Their creating a movie for an audience who watch youtube far far more than they’ll ever go to the cinema, they clearly don’t give a shit. It’s like old people humour, they totally don’t understand the character’s enjoyment of this media so they instead try to mock it. Sure, like, Pewdiepie a Nazi shit and if you actually cared any that’s where your criticism would be, but Jackie-boy sorta mostly harmless. I guess it’s the hair they don’t like, cos pissbaby white men super troubled by that for some reason.

Also the film don’t manage to escape the classist assumptions that run through Jeff Kinney’s work. Along their trip the Heffley family keep encountering another, lower class, family.  Their portrayal is just full on insulting, like sickening, any opportunity these people got to act immorally they take it. Which is supposed to exonerate our characters’ hideous class hatred for these folks. A more competent movie would probably have a reconciliation between the two families where they discover they had more in common after all.

But this ain’t a competent movie, plot threads appear and disappear without provocation, there basically no resolution to any point the film starts to make. Even when they reach their destination the film takes no time to breathe, it just keeps shuttling our characters along for a while until it decides to end. Maybe the style works in a book, but it’s totally inappropriate for a film.

David Bowers is a British director. I’m sure that’s how he was able to construct a road trip movie to the American south without including a single non-white character. Not a compelling excuse though.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is currently screening in UK cinemas

Kid can't even do the Macaulay Culkin face right
Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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