Film Review – Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
Whether you were eagerly anticipating it or not, the third entry in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is here with Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. When I first heard about the premise of this latest movie, I was struck with a bit of hesitation. The last time I saw a family film that involved a young kid trying to make the most of their summer vacation, it was Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (2011). Mercifully, this film is not the hectic, over the top, cringe-inducingly bad story that was, and, in some ways, it actually has some good things going for it. Unfortunately, what starts off as a promising beginning breaks apart at the seams during the middle segments, and by the end, I walked away thinking this is a missed opportunity for something more than what it turns out to be.
The best element the film has is its lead character. Zachary Gordon returns once more as Greg Heffley, the kid who sees the world in hand-drawn pictures and narrates his life to us with a keen yet naïve perspective. I like Gordon in this performance, and I especially like the way Greg is written as a character. Far too often, kids in movies are made to be extraordinary, with the ability to do things none of us (even as adults) would be able to do. What makes Greg work is that he is a completely normal kid. He isn’t the nerdiest student in his class, but he isn’t the most popular one, either. He doesn’t force himself to be somebody else, and he seems perfectly content with how he is. This, I’m sure, is relatable to most people who can remember being that young, when all you wanted to do was stay in and play games, and getting a girl to write her phone number in your yearbook was considered a major life accomplishment.
That’s what drives one of the main storylines in the film. It’s the last day of school, and all Greg wants for the summer is to play video games and hang out with his crush, Holly Hills (Peyton List). Of course, things take a turn for our young hero, throwing all of his plans out of whack. The first twist is the fact that his parents, Frank (Steven Zahn) and Susan (Rachael Harris), believe that the best way for him to spend his summer is to turn off the TV and get active. Sadly, these “activities” include going outdoors, camping, fishing, joining the Scouts, and (for some odd reason) reading Little Women. We come to learn that the second major issue for Greg is that Holly will be spending a lot of her summer at the country club, where Greg is not a member—but his best friend, Rowley (Robert Capron), is. Can Greg somehow keep one step ahead of his parents’ plans? Can he sneak into the country club and impress Holly? Can he do all this without being caught and made a fool of? Oh, the strife of being a kid!
If the film was a little more focused on these immediate issues, it could have turned out to be surprisingly good. We have a lot of strong pieces here. Along with Gordon, Steven Zahn stands out as Greg’s well-intentioned father. The relationship the two have makes for one of the better story threads. Clearly, they are into different things, with Greg wanting to stay in front of the TV and Frank wanting him to get out, play sports, and learn responsibilities. Whenever the film focuses on their development, that’s when I was most engaged. It’s not that they are completely against one another, but that they come from two different perspectives and need to meet in the middle. Greg’s time in the country club is also a strong point. The country club works as a large playground; what kid wouldn’t want to spend their entire day swimming in the pool, drinking milkshakes, and driving golf carts all over the place?
Around the halfway mark is when the film started to lose me. Instead of sticking with Greg’s avoidance of his parents and his pursuit of Holly’s affections, it instead begins to meander in different directions. This hinders the pacing, and also provides for some pretty ineffective scenes of slapstick comedy. We’ve seen it so many times before in so many other movies: the scenes of social awkwardness, the contrived set-ups that pay off with Greg getting into trouble, and the moments that just seem to go against character’s better judgments. Greg is too smart to allow himself to get into such bad situations. Have you ever seen a movie where the family dog gets hold of a hard-cooked meal? Or how about when a character accidentally loses their swimming trunks, preventing them from getting out of the pool? Those scenes weren’t funny before, and they’re not funny here. There is an entire portion of the film where Greg travels with Rowley’s family to the seashore that could have been completely lifted from the screenplay—it adds nothing but a forced attempt at comedy.
By the time I got to the end of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, I had almost forgotten how strong the first half was. The film loses its forward momentum, and then wraps itself up in a way that is anti-climactic. I hope that this is the last entry into the series, because it’s easy to see that all these kids are getting a little too old to play their respective characters. Granted, the film is completely fine, and I’m sure kids, along with parents, will find plenty to enjoy as the target audience. I just wanted it to continue with its early promise, instead of being wimpy itself and taking the easy way out.
Final Grade: C+