Memories of middle school can reduce strong men and women to shudders of horror as they remember their dorky, lumpy, shape-shifting earlier selves. Yet America’s brave junior high-schoolers continue to endure the experience to this day. Not that they have much choice. Author and cartoonist Jeff Kinney knows this, and speaks dork-cool truth to cafeteria-bully power in an insanely popular book series now adapted into the delightful movie Diary of a Wimpy Kid. As millions of comforted readers young and older know, the diary belongs to Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), a runty dude with the wherewithal to know he’s surrounded by morons (his word, not mine) but without the social skills to outwit, outplay, and outlast them. Or the knowledge of how to at least hang in until high school, when the games only get tougher.
Greg’s diary — or journal, as he’d prefer you call it — is filled with the details of a million little humiliations shared with his fat, endearingly easygoing friend Rowley (Robert Capron), a kind of Zen master in the shape of a Pillsbury doughboy. And the movie, a jaunty and forthright production with a lively look reflecting the book’s illustrated pages, does a great job of being in two places at once: In the head and gangly bodies of kids, and in the hearts of those of us who have survived grades 6-8. Director Thor Freudenthal (Hotel for Dogs) and his team of writers are at the top of their game in the case of the Cheese Touch, a hideous ostracization that befalls any kid unlucky (or unaware) enough to touch a slice of Swiss cheese, mottled with toxic mold, that has stuck to the schoolyard blacktop for eons. Don’t ask why the Cheese Touch results in nuclear cooties. It just does. B+