'Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules': Heightened Reality

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules shows the difficulty of translating teenage behavior for all-ages consumption.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Director: David Bowers
Cast: Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Rachael Harris, Steve Zahn, Robert Capron
Rated: PG
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-03-25 (General release)
UK date: 2011-05-27 (General release)

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books are about middle school. And while 12-year-old kids can certainly enjoy them (as can any number of adults), they also reach a younger, elementary school audience. This kind of fluid readership doesn't seem to present serious problems for publishers, but big-studio movies, especially for younger audiences, are typically designed with a near-mercenary focus, with very particular demographic targets in mind.

And so the voice of middle-schooler Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) becomes broader and sillier when translated from the page into a budding Nickelodeon-ish franchise. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, the second film adapted from the series, arrives just a year after the first, shot quickly before its young stars age out of their parts. Surprisingly, given this speed, the new film has a bit more charm than its predecessor, even as it stays planted in kids' movie territory.

One of the most puzzling bumps in Wimpy Kid's initial journey from page to screen was that the live-action Greg didn't seem wimpy so much as hapless and a little craven as he tried to fit in at school. In Rodrick Rules, Gordon still comes off like a more arrogant version of the everykid Fred Savage played on The Wonder Years, but he's more concerned with what goes on at home, in particular, his relationship with older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick, looking like an evil Jimmy Fallon).

In the first movie, Rodrick served only as an aggressively unpleasant source of torment to Greg. The same holds here, but as their contentiousness is increasingly frustrating for their mother, Susan (Rachael Harris), she insists they "spend time" together. This leads to a series of mishaps, as might be expected, as well as a moment of bonding after Greg agrees to lie about the party Rodrick throws in their parents' absence. Sometimes their new amity is productive (Rodrick tries to help Greg with girl problems), and sometimes it descends into typical Heffley bumbling (Rodrick lends Greg an old, inadequate paper for a school assignment). Greg is delighted to escape his brother's wrath, but feels conflicted about lying to his parents, a sentimental shared and doubled by his good-hearted buddy Rowley (Robert Capron), who remains a comedic highlight thanks to his boundless enthusiasm and lack of self-consciousness.

All of this is somewhat funnier and warmer than Greg's escapades in the first film, if drawn with similarly broad strokes. New director David Bowers is an animation veteran, and it shows both in his clever sight gags (particularly the variety of acts performed during a school talent show) and the occasionally strained pratfalls that don't quite look right in live-action. He also sometimes cuts to quick, funny fantasy sequences, which don't seem so far removed from the movie's cartoony version of reality.

This heightened reality speaks to the difficulty of translating teenage behavior for all-ages consumption. Screenwriters Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah worked on Freaks and Geeks, which featured a similar relationship between a geeky kid and his older, more rebellious sibling. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid style doesn't permit that show's details, its insights or subtlety, but it's a shame that the movie can't at least nudge the dialogue and behavior in a slightly more convincing, less antic direction.

Rodrick, for example, is at least 16, yet his most outlandish behavior involves a party where kids chug soda and eat junk food, and playing pranks with fake vomit. Middle-schoolers don't necessarily need to see beer-soaked blowouts and debauchery -- Rodrick's actual dorkiness turns out to be kind of sweet -- but they can probably handle a little more than watching kids get brain-freezes from icy drinks at the convenience store.

At its worst, these kinds of compromises result in the dullness of the High School Musical series, which depicts adolescence as it might be imagined by a moony seven-year-old. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules never approaches that level of whitewashing; it's too steeped in the embarrassments and minor triumphs of an awkward age. But even with the sequel's improvements, it stops well short of a truly indelible middle-school portrait. More than the comics-infused books, it feels like a comic-book version of real life.






'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.