Andy Bockelman: ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’: Was sixth grade this bad for everyone?

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'Diary of a Wimpy Kid'

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

Running time: 120 minutes

Starring: Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron, Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn

Whether your days were filled with wedgies, swirlies, cooties or something worse in the years between elementary and high school, anyone can identify with the prepubescent kid in question in “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

Even if you’d prefer to call his tome a journal.

In fact, he’d really prefer that.

Middle school is the stupidest thing ever invented. So says 11-year-old Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), whose transition into young adult life is hardly going smoothly.

As one of the puniest and least popular kids in his entire school, Greg is pretty low on the food chain and he knows it — the motto above the school entrance may as well read, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

But he’s not about to go through the whole year being considered a dork, even if associating with his lifelong best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) is tantamount to having a “Kick Me” sign glued to his back. Unfortunately every attempt the two make toward popularity — joining the wrestling team and the Safety Patrol — only results in humiliation one way or another.

But when Rowley stumbles into being well-liked, Greg’s jealousy may destroy their friendship, as well as his chances of being voted one of the class favorites in the yearbook.

Judging from the doodles of Jeff Kinney’s kid’s series, Greg should be played by a bald stick figure, but Gordon does pretty well in a pinch as the boy who hasn’t hit his growth spurt yet but knows the gorillas around him will one day be in his employ.

Preferably cleaning up after his dog.

But at least he’s not the only perpetual prey with tiny Chirag Gupta (Karan Brar) and hygienically challenged weirdo Fregley (Grayson Russell) serving as bully bait in his stead.

Devon Bostick makes the best horrible older brother since Bill Paxton in “Weird Science” as Greg’s tormenting metalhead sibling Rodrick, whose intellect can be summed up by his participation in a band with the lovely handle Löded Diper. All the while, their parents (Steve Zahn, Rachael Harris) seem blissfully oblivious to all Greg’s concerns, not the least of which is being beaten up by overachiever Patty Farrell (Laine MacNeil).

Standing out in the cast is Capron as wacky best friend Rowley, who sticks out from his peers not only for his off-kilter wardrobe, pink bike and catchphrase — “Zoo-Wee Mama!” — but in his insistence in breaking the cardinal rule that middle schoolers everywhere have ingrained in their minds: It’s not OK to be yourself.

Were Rowley the main character of this story, it wouldn’t work, but with Greg — a middle child unsure of himself and desperate to be considered cool by kids he doesn’t even know — it makes perfect sense. The act of trying to be liked usually results in the opposite, and junior high is where most of us started learning this lesson.

The trials of adolescence look a lot less mortifying when they’re brought to life by the sketches in Greg’s diary — ahem, journal — but the real world is not as black and white as the pages of his book. This is how the movie functions best with a young hero who has just as many faults as virtues, but even though Greg lies constantly and plays the victim more than he has a right to, we all know what he’s going through.

He could complain a little less, though.

“Whiny” may be the better adjective for “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” but either way, it’s a fine family film along the lines of big screen renderings of other beloved kids novels like “Holes” and “How to Eat Fried Worms.”

Only time will tell if it will be remembered as the authoritative movie about the middle school experience, but keep one thing above all in mind: Don’t ever touch the cheese!

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