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Wimpy 8 year old Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) starts middle school with trepidation, warned of the many social dangers outlined by his would-be muso teenage brother Rod (Devon Bostick). But at least he finds a best friend in tubby outcast Rowley Jefferson (Robert Capron) and hopes to attract popularity with a series of ill-conceived plans, which an older and wiser school paper editor Angie Steadman (Chloe Moretz) finds weird. Bullied and ignored, the two boys embark on several adventures including a nasty Halloween episode in which they attract unwelcome attention from three older (bully) boys. But it's as school safety patrol officers that they stumble into the new world of responsibility and Greg makes a wrong choice, torpedoing his one true friendship.

Review by Louise Keller:
The pain of being a tween is canvassed in this almost-too-real film adaptation that plays out the panic and angst of a youngster trying to survive primary school. In keeping with Jeff Kinney's novel, cartoonesque illustrations play a key role in the film whose internal thoughts are relayed by protagonist Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), a dorky, ambitious kid whose aspirations perpetually backfire. While the blackness of many situations resonates and despite some amusing moments, the film's tone is so ardent and realistic, it often works against it. Nonetheless, this coming of age film for the under 12 set has merit and charm with its themes about friendship and the discovery that our choices make us who we are.

When we first meet Gordon's Greg, about to start 'Middle School', it is clear he is in a state of panic. Sandwiched between his older prankster brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) and younger non-potty-trained brother Manny (Connor & Owen Fielding), he is a ready target at home. But he quickly finds the school environment with its toilets sans doors and a school cafeteria that is 'the cruellest place on earth' to be terrifyingly judgemental as everything he does to make himself popular and successful goes wrong. In short, he does everything for the wrong reasons - from joining the school wrestling club, the safety patrol, submitting a cartoon for selection and an audition for the school musical - to find himself rejected by his goodhearted, chubby best friend Rowley (Robert Capron is excellent).

Twelve year old Gordon gives a terrific performance as Greg, although unfortunately for the film, we never like him much or embrace him as a person. Not only does he show poor character by his lack of loyalty to Rowley, who is the sweetest, most natural child, seemingly unaware of the uncool state of his clothes or behaviour, but he betrays him on several occasions. Of course, this is the lesson that is learned but our loyalties lie more with Rowley than with Greg. That mouldy slice of cheese in the school playground becomes a symbol of meaningless that Greg recognizes. All the kids do a fine job and while director Thor Freudenthal (Hotel for Dogs) keeps it all together, the film would have benefited from a lighter touch, offering more humour and giving us a greater stake to our experience.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
All right all you 8 - 12 year olds, get in line for some fun at Greg Heffley's expense. Zachary Gordon plays the kind of 8 year old you won't find next door, unless you live in a particular American suburb called Movieland. All the same, his adventures will strike a chord as he enters the world of middle school (primary school to you), where all the niceties of innocent childhood are tossed on the school yard rather like the rancid slice of Swiss cheese that becomes a potent (and mouldy) symbol of all that's wrong with the children's nastier characteristics.

Rowley Jefferson - superbly played by Robert Capron - is his friend-in-fear; they are both looked down upon and fear the sneering girls and boys who think they are superior. You know what I'm talking about. More than anything, Greg wants to be popular - even more popular than the others. It doesn't matter why or how. In his haste to become popular, he forgets to be true to his innermost decent self and learns the painful price of disloyalty.

The film explores important issues in a lighthearted way - no wonder the illustrated novels by Jeff Kinney were such a hugely popular work (translated into 33 languages). Although the medium is very different (albeit some of the illustrations make their animated way from book to screen), the substance of the characters and the message remains. Fun is a great way to learn ...

Much of the dialogue that comes out of Greg's mouth sounds far too grown up to fit him, but Gordon manages to be more or less convincing - if a tad precious. Capron is memorable, not least because his Rowley is the hapless victim of Greg's immaturity; the kid can act. Chloe Moretz is effective in a small support role as the school paper's kooky editor but there's little that the adults bring to the screen that grabs our attention. The film's forced naturalism eventually becomes cloying and unnatural; all you 8 - 12 year olds will sense that.
First Published in the Sun-Herald

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(US, 2010)

CAST: Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron, Steve Zahn, Rachael Harris, Devon Bostick, Chloe Moretz

PRODUCER: Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson

DIRECTOR: Thor Freudenthal

SCRIPT: Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo, Gabe Sachs, Jeff Judah (illustrated novel by Jeff Kinney)


EDITOR: Wendy Greene Brimont

MUSIC: Theodore Shapiro


RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 23, 2010

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