Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (2017)
★ / ★★★★
Despite the picture being plagued with would-be humor involving various bodily functions, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” based on the children’s book series by Jeff Kinney, will likely fail to appeal even to its narrow age demographic. This is because the material is not in touch with the core of the series. That is, pre-teen Greg Heffley (Jason Drucker) feels like a loser and so he goes on great lengths to shed what he believes others perceive him to be. In reality, however, he is a good kid who just so happens to get in trouble sometimes—and he need not change a thing about himself. It is not about gross-out and slapstick humor.
It is strange because the screenplay is helmed by the book series’ author along with director David Bowers. One gets the impression that in order to commercialize or make the picture more accessible to non-book readers, a lot of the main source’s heart were cut out. Perhaps this decision is driven by a plot involving a road trip where shenanigans are expected to unfold consistently in order to establish a semblance of fast pacing. In reality, however, the film moves quite slowly because the viewers grow tired of the highly repetitive formula of silliness and high jinks. When it does get to the supposedly heartfelt moments, it falls flat. Deep emotions and realizations are not earned at all.
I take no pleasure in pointing out child performers coming across as rather mismatched to the roles they play. However, it must be mentioned that Drucker is not a good fit to portray Greg Heffley. The character is supposed to command a balance of slyness and sweetness, often during the same scene, but Drucker, even though he emotes the best he can with the material he is provided, does not yet have the range to reach such a balance. He pales by comparison to Zachary Gordon who played Greg in the first three “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movies. Perhaps Drucker just needs more time to grow accustomed to Greg’s shoes.
The film is completely let down by the writing. This time around, Greg’s parents (Alicia Silverstone, Tom Everett Scott) have bigger roles in the story and so it is a perfect opportunity for Greg to learn a bit more about his parents, perhaps even connect with them on a level that the protagonist did not expect prior to being on the road. And yet the screenplay insists on delivering the same old tricks: portraying parents as uptight and lacking the ability to relate to their children. While the picture can have these elements, turning them upside down or inside out once in a while could have paved for more interesting and challenging avenues. Playing it safe is death to comedy.
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” lacks freshness as well as a certain verve required to entertain children beyond gross-out jokes. I have a deep dislike toward children’s movies that are adamant in treating their target audience as not intelligent. Kids deserve better than this boring, nonstop barrage of lowest hanging fruit. A better alternative is to allow children to play outside than to have them sit through this incredibly disappointing misfire.