Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul
When Greg unwantedly becomes an internet sensation, he hatches a plan to go to a gaming convention as a way to restore his reputation. Yet to be successful, he needs to figure out how to derail his mother’s annual road trip holiday; a task made increasingly difficult when she enforces a car-wide technology ban.
1 hour, 31 minutes.
May 19, 2017
Writer: Jeff Kinney, David Bowers, Adam Sztykiel
Composer: Ed Shearmur
Starring: Jason Drucker, Alicia Silverstone, Tom Everett Scott, Charlie Wright, Chris Coppola
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Genre: Comedy & Family
We film critics at Geeks Under Grace don’t necessarily agree with each other all the time when it comes to our taste in movies, though May’s Boom, Bust or Meh revealed that we all apparently shared the belief that Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul was gonna suck. The combination of the poorly received news of a new cast, along with a trailer brimming with unfunny, ridiculous road trip scenarios, just caused the film to reek of failure. So the movie stayed on GUG’s “Movies that need to be reviewed” list untouched for months–as though it had the Cheese Touch–so long so that it finally managed to come to Australian shores last week with the release being timed to coincide the winter school holidays. Struck down with a seasonal cold and unable to go to the cinemas, with morbid curiosity I decided to give the unwanted film some love, and took one for the team by binge watching the entire series.
What I stumbled across was a mediocre but charming trilogy. It’s narrowly aimed at the late elementary/middle school market, though the characters were lovable enough to appeal to all demographics. After seeing Greg and his friends and family grow throughout the course of three films, I was surprised to find that I had developed an ounce of excitement to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul after all! But with the entire cast replaced for this latest installment, would the film maintain the same vibe as the others? How much of this franchise’s success relied on the work of the original actors?
Violence/Scary images: This is an incredibly tame movie. It maintains a very light tone throughout with few threats of violence (most antagonizing comes in the form of threatening to destroy the main character’s reputation as opposed to physical harm), and ‘scary’ sequences from the protagonist’s perspective come across as more awkward than anything else. The family driving the car experience a few near misses. An older man frequently threatens and tries to grab Greg, the hero of the story.
A character is bitten on the finger by a piglet–there is no blood or gore. The family is attacked by seagulls. A character believes they have been shot in the head and their brains are falling out, when in reality they merely have food stuck in their hair. The shower sequence from Psycho is parodied, though there is no knife, only shampoo bottles.
Language/Crude humor: An adult says “Holy mother” before being cut off. God’s name is used in vain. A few characters get their hand stuck inside a used diaper, which becomes a recurring gag. A male character urinates inside a bottle out of desperation. There are jokes revolving around potty training.
Sexual Content: An underage character accidentally sleeps in the wrong bed at a hotel. There is nothing sexual about this scene. A boy gets stuck outside in his underwear. Characters attend a gaming convention where there are cosplayers present–the fact that the girls are potential eye candy/potential dates is mentioned.
Drug/alcohol Use: None.
Spiritual Content: None.
Other negative themes: Similar to the other entries in this franchise, wimpy kid Greg seems to live in a mean world. Whenever he finds himself in a tough or embarrassing situation, surrounding citizens will opt for the nastiest solution, such as filming the event in order to humiliate him even further. A number of petty crimes are also committed, such as theft and trespassing, which is hinted that it is wrong, but never directly stated nor is there any mention of simply involving the appropriate authorities. Greg also hasn’t learnt yet to be open and tell his parents the truth–many problems could have been avoided if he had simply done this. It’s especially frustrating in situations where he has taken the blame unfairly.
Positive content: As an improvement from the previous installments, this version of Greg is not as narcissistic. Chirag also does not make an appearance in this film, meaning that it is devoid of Indian stereotypes (though sadly as a result there is no representation of any minority groups). The Long Haul promotes the restricting of screen time, though within reason, and not going so far to be disconnected from the interests of the younger generation. It also fosters the concept that sometimes the most memorable experiences and the moments in life that allow us to grow the most, are also sometimes the worst, or are when we feel challenged.
Some things never change. For the most part, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul stays true to the tropes present in the previous three films. Once again, the main character, Greg, is concerned with his reputation, and must perform a certain task in order to save face. Naturally, his attempts to rectify the situation only cascade into spectacular, cringe-worthy events. Yet through all the awkwardness, he manages to deepen his relationship with another member of the cast. This time it’s his mother’s turn.
While it is difficult to pinpoint where The Long Haul sits on the Wimpy Kid timeline (Sweetie isn’t present and it’s not stated what grade Greg is up to in school), thankfully Greg’s relationships with others haven’t regressed. The first film focused on fixing his friendship with his best mate Rowley, the second was his brother, and Dog Days forced Greg and his father to bond together. That character growth is still present in The Long Haul despite the change in cast. There’s still sibling rivalry between Rodrick and Greg, but the antagonism is nowhere near the level seen in the first two films, while Frank seems to have a decent understanding with his son. Having the protagonist forget the lessons of the past is a common problem seen in sequels, but thankfully The Long Haul manages to dodge this pitfall.
When it comes to maintaining the tone of the franchise, it certainly helped that David Bowers returned to direct, with Anthony B. Richard once again manning the camera. Out of all the technical departments, the cinematography is the strongest. The camera’s comedic timing is perfect, whipping around and popping in to focus on a character’s reaction at just the right moment. However, no amount of energetic camerawork can save some of the stagnant scenes inside the car. Lacking dramatic tension, when the kids complain they are bored during their road trip, so is the audience.
As a result, The Long Haul takes a while to warm up. This is somewhat true with all the movies in the franchise, where after seeing several small, seemingly unrelated altercations, one begins to wonder where the plot is headed. It all eventually comes together, though the confined setting of a car only makes the weaknesses of the story all the more evident. It’s a slow burn, which may cause children to fidget in their seats, but once it does pick up, it does feature some nice, amusing moments.
Yet the story does feel tail heavy. There are no sneaky inside jokes for adults for the majority of the runtime, though suddenly in the last half hour we’re treated to references to The Hills Have Eyes, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Psycho. Additionally, when the characters hit their lowest point (usually signifying the story is about to enter its third and final act), the plot includes two more complications, leaving the last half hour of the film bursting with content; dramatic action that may have been more appreciated earlier on in the film.
Fresh off binge watching the previous films, seeing the new cast is jarring and requires some time to adjust. This is especially true when it comes to the lead actor, Jason Drucker. To be fair, the original child who played Greg (Zachary Gordon) wasn’t the greatest actor, and watching the series was reminiscent of the Harry Potter franchise, where the audience gets to watch the kids grow into their roles. Now that the reset button has been pushed, we are back to watching child actors who can just barely deliver their lines, as opposed to a more experienced cast who can finally carry a scene by themselves.
The previous films managed to alleviate acting issues by spreading the load around, though The Long Haul is the only one in the series where side characters such as Fregley, Chirag, Patty, and Holly are absent. Rowley makes an appearance, though it’s only at the beginning, with him serving as more of a plot device so the story has a character that provides an outsider’s opinion. These minor but normally reoccurring characters are sorely missed, leaving this film feeling oddly empty without their presence. Yet the decision to cut them does make sense. Due to the road trip narrative, their inclusion would only feel shoehorned in. Meanwhile, from a producer’s standpoint, it wouldn’t make sense to cast all these roles, as it would mean locking in more actors at a time where it’s unnecessary. The last thing we need is more recasting, so the decision of keeping future options open by sadly having lovable characters absent from the script is a forgivable move.
What isn’t forgivable is casting Charlie Wright as Rodrick. His interpretation of the character has caused many fans to protest by using the hashtag #NotMyRodrick. While a lot of the outcry occurred during the early stages of production and was therefore premature and ill informed, after now watching the film, one can now see that the hashtag is deserved. Rodrick isn’t the brightest character, though his personal belief that he is wise is what intrigues and appeals to audiences. Devon Bostick’s portrayal was nuanced, however Wright’s interpretation is flat. In The Long Haul, Rodrick has an IQ to rival Homer Simpson, however even the latter has moments of genius. This version of Rodrick is whiny, shallow, and utterly stupid. In short, he’s not a real person, in that you’d be hard-pressed to find any human sharing the same personality, as he is nothing but a caricature.
Charlie Wright can’t take all the blame. The script doesn’t give him much room to play, with most lines either being a gloat, threat, or a reference to his van. The screenplays in this franchise have always been on the heavy handed side, though with a smaller cast in The Long Haul, dialogue that’s purely for exposition is painfully obvious. Alicia Silverstone and Tom Everett Scott do their best to keep scenes alive, though their performances never peak above average. The twins that play Manny–the youngest of the Heffley family–are extraordinary, and their casting may be even an improvement from the previous films.
Ultimately I cannot recommend this to an adult. Unless you’re a superfan of the books or grew up with the previous films, there’s no real reason to intentionally seek out this film. There are simply better kids’ movies out there that also cater for older demographics. However, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is excellent for its target age group. It was refreshing to watch a film that was age appropriate, unlike other recent movies in the genre, like The Good Dinosaur, which ended up being too scary for the littlies, and The Secret Life of Pets, which contained some really questionable material. While adults will find The Long Haul tedious in places and rather simplistic, it is still watchable. It’s the weakest of the series thus far, but it may still prove to be a hit with the kids.
+ Maintains some of the vibe from the previous films.
+ Vivacious camera work.
+ Has the potential to be great for its intended age group.
- Only tolerable for adults.
- Poor dialogue.
- Not my Rodrick.
- A slow burning plot may be too tedious for little kids.
- None of the previous side characters are present.