Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, like the two previous installments of the series, deals heavily in adolescent frustration and angst. Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), the Woody Allen of the seventh grade, drifts from humiliation to deeper humiliation and from nervous overthinking to neurotic imagining.
Much of his angst is of his own making. Some comes at the hands of his tormenting older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick), his too-adorable younger brother, and his well-meaning but deeply embarrassing parents (Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris).
As Dog Days opens, Greg has just finished – no, survived – the seventh grade and sets out to enjoy the best summer ever. To Greg, this means interminable hours playing video games. To his mother, it means trips to the over-crowded and pee-infused municipal pool. Even his father expects him to frolic outdoors like some pioneer child.
Greg seeks refuge in the country club membership of his decidedly uncool best friend Rowley (Robert Capron), where the spacious pool and quick service are rendered even more attractive by the presence of Greg’s crush Holly (Peyton List). In order to get his overly-enthusiastic dad off his back, Greg fabricates a job at the club, a false development that fills his father with real pride.
This father-son storyline enables the movie to function at two levels.
On one level, Greg pratfalls his way through the summer: losing his shorts on the high dive, accidentally calling 911 on Rowley’s dad, and setting up his wanna be rocker brother (band name: loded diper) to ruin a spoiled girl’s sweet 16 party. It’s all silly and funny, capitalizing on the adolescent feeling that the whole world must be watching everything one does, especially the humiliating bits.
On another level, it’s a sweet and morally solid story of a father-son relationship. When Greg’s deception is uncovered, his father changes from the goofy, loser dad we’re so used to seeing onscreen to a father who, although deeply disappointed, still has his son’s best interest at heart. He’s a good dad. It’s a shame that this is such a novel concept on our TV and movie screens.
Better yet, Greg’s redemption comes as he makes a difficult choice to take responsibility for his actions, even though it will cost him. It is his father’s recognition of this strength of character that builds the bridge to their reconciliation.
Sure they’re goofy and aimed straight at the elementary school set, but these adaptations of Jeff Kinney’s novels exist in a sweet and moral universe. The previous film Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules dealt with sibling relationships and the first movie Diary of a Wimpy Kid explored real friendship. In each installment, Greg Heffley becomes a little more civilized and a little less self-focused.
It seems that, despite all the humiliation, Greg Heffley is going to be just fine.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days is rated PG for some rude humor. There are no sexual jokes, no language and no violence. It is appropriate for elementary school kids and up.