Where possible, I try and write a review of a film without having seen anyone else’s opinions of it first. I’ve got plenty of time afterwards to assess just how wrong I am in the eyes of the world.
Last weekend, then, rather than attend a press show, I took my children of varying ages (which tends to be how children work) to the new Wimpy Kid film, The Long Haul. I’ve enjoyed the first three, and particular applaud the quite brilliantly cast company of young performers. But young performers grow old and so, five years after Diary Of A Wimpy Kid 3, The Long Haul arrives with the same director (David Bowery), author Jeff Kinney still heavily involved, but a totally new cast.
I was expecting something akin to a reboot, but the skillful, unfussy way that the films have always aligned Jeff Kinney’s artwork to the humans on screen means that the new faces are dealt with in seconds. And then we’re back down to business. In this case, we learn that young Greg and his family – brothers Rodrick and baby Manny, mother Susan and father Frank – are going on a road trip. Two solid days of driving, where phones are banned, family time is on the agenda, and a 90th birthday party lies at the other end of the road.
The film settles quickly, and a sequence in a ‘family’ restaurant soon sets up the mix of jokes, that don’t aim very high (the toilet and associated items feature) but hit regularly. Well, at least they did with me, and the people in the screening I was in. In the first half of the film in particular, the film is brisk, entertaining, funny, and that rarest of things: a live action family movie, that tries to offer something to entertain all. Mixing the diary approach and the road trip structure means story is light, and it’s left to the characters to work their way through a series of scrapes. Think the recent Vacation reboot, but better. And cleaner.
The new cast are impressive, to the point where – with no disrespect intended to the company old or new – I accepted them as the characters in seconds. I yearned a bit for Steve Zahn’s take on Frank, not because of anything Tom Everett-Scott does wrong, but more because I think Steve Zahn lifts pretty much any thing I see him in. Director David Bowers, making his third Wimpy Kid film, keeps things snappy and moving along too, and brings the journey to a close just as 90 minutes has been clocked up.
As with many road movies, I did find that it was running out of gas as it went into its final strait, as situations become heightened. It’d be remiss for me not to note that my eldest, a Wimpy Kid devotee, quibbled that Rodrick does something near the end that Rodrick would, in his eyes, never do.
But then we all had a really fun time. I think it sits well against the previous three films, and I’d like to see more of them. The critical mauling and strangely depressed US box office take seems to make that a long shot, though.
I was genuinely surprised when I read the reviews on my way out. So were my offspring. None of us were suggesting that it was the best film we’d ever seen, but each of us walked out with a smile on our face, having enjoyed a satisfying hour and a half in the movies. I think that’s worth cherishing, and I think The Long Haul is worth seeing. Put me off owning a pig, mind…
Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is in UK cinemas now.