Last year’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a film I’ve all but forgotten. I didn’t review it and saw it only because I had time to kill in between two work related appointments away from home. I watched it in a passive state with my critic brain turned off. Consequently, all I remember is that I didn’t like it, though I can’t recall why. The sequel, however, is a winner. It’s not an amazing film and only makes a gradual step forward, but if it continues to do so, by the time we reach the fifth book adaptation, we might be in for something worth remembering.
A year has passed since the last film and Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) is now in 7th grade and no longer the victim of upperclassmen abuse. He still has to contend with his older brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostick), however, who finds pleasure in making Greg miserable. Aware of this, their mother (Rachael Harris) makes them a deal, hoping they will bond as a result of it. For every hour they spend together, she will give them one dollar, but kids never take the easy route and they end up scamming her, which leads to some unfavorable results.
When Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules begins, the local skating rink is holding a back-to-school night with a sign out front that says “Welcome back 7th graders.” But kids will be kids and a couple of pranksters rearrange the letters so that it says “More lame 7th graders.” This poses a couple of problems. For starters, who knows where that extra “R” came from, but more importantly, it was the first joke in the film, an infantile, unfunny joke that made it appear as if I were in for a long, unpleasant sit. As the beginning ran on, it only became more worrisome, reverting back to the gross-out humor that plagued the original, only ramping it up tenfold. The inclusion of Rodrick’s immaturely named band, Löded Diper (umlaut optional) is expected, but watching a character take a bite out of a piece of pizza that was found in the trash and then pull an attached piece of gum out of his mouth is not my idea of a good time.
But then something magical happens. It begins to stray away from the childish shenanigans set by its predecessor and show some heart and intelligence. As Rodrick and Greg spend time with each other, their respect for each other grows and they form a mutual partnership, even if it does spawn from defrauding their mother. They begin to share things with each other, like Rodrick’s tips for living an easy life, which includes pretending you’re not good at something to get out of doing it (like washing the car). These scenes establish a real relationship between the two brothers and prove that even though siblings don’t always get along, they are always there for each other. Greg and Heffley love each other and show that love in their own various ways, even if they never vocalize it.
Of course, the events leading up to (and interspersed between) that bond are relatively mean-spirited, full of hurtful pranks and exaggerated threats, but last time I checked, that’s what siblings do. They scream at each other and say things they don’t really mean. The film admirably juggles the reality of the situation with an endearing and truthful message, which creates an authentic, if extreme sequence of events.
There’s a lot of goofy fun to be had in Rodrick Rules if you can tune your brain to think like a child. It’s impossible not to be amused by what is essentially a parody of us all. For example, there’s a funny scene where Greg and his friend watch a horror movie called “The Foot.” It’s a ridiculous film that scares the pants off them, but we’ve all been there. Those characters will one day look back at that moment in their lives and laugh, just as we all do when we think of how absurd our fears were when we were young.
All of these reasons contribute to making the film so easy to watch. It’s smart, funny and it creates a realistic family dynamic (among all characters, not just the brothers) that is touching. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is an unexpected delight.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules receives 3.5/5