The kid is all right

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

GREG HEF­FLEY (Zachary Gor­don) is a cocky, smart-mouthed 12 year-old with one con­sum­ing am­bi­tion: to be­come the most pop­u­lar kid in mid­dle school. Alas, the in­verted logic of the play­ground dic­tates that the more he strives for pop­u­lar­ity, the fur­ther he falls down the rank­ings.

It does not help that Greg is, by his own es­ti­ma­tion, sur­rounded by im­be­ciles. His child­hood chum Row­ley (Robert Capron) is an out­sized gin­ger-haired em­bar­rass­ment. His older, hip­per brother (Devon Bo­stick) tor­tures him with low-level horse­play. Even his dad is a goofy enough to be played by Steve Zahn.

These peo­ple, Greg de­cides, are hold­ing him back in a world where hell is other pre-teens. It’s bad enough that he can’t even im­press in the Chi­huahua di­vi­sion of the wrestling pro­gramme and that the more com­pli­cated machi­na­tions of ado­les­cence are lost on him (“A butt can’t be cute,” note Greg and his baf­fled friend.) But he’ll never get to lunch with the cool kids if he’s car­ry­ing all these freaks and geeks.

Un­hap­pily, our ob­nox­ious hero’s peren­nial mor­ti­fi­ca­tion soon im­pacts on those around him. His will­ing­ness to dump on Row­ley, whom he con­sid­ers “pretty lucky to have me as a friend”, not only jeop­ar­dises their re­la­tion­ship, but back­fires ut­terly; now Row­ley is the one fit­ting in, while Greg can’t even com­mand the at­ten­tion of that dorky loner girl ( Kick Ass’s Chloë Grace Moretz) from the school news­pa­per.

Can Greg turn things around? Will life lessons be duly learned? Like ev­ery other kids’ TV show, Diary of a Wimpy Kid bor­rows the fourth wall de­mo­li­tion once favoured by Mal­colm in the Mid­dle, a de­vice that al­lows for the cen­tral char­ac­ter to di­rectly ad­dress the au­di­ence and for the au­di­ence to see past his oc­ca­sion­ally un­re­li­able nar­ra­tion.

Adapted from the Jeff Kin­ney’s sim­i­larly ti­tled il­lus­trated novel and pep­pered with that book’s doo­dles, the film is en­dear­ingly age ap­pro­pri­ate, gen­uinely funny and cheer­ily de­void of snark and dou­ble cod­ing.

We might have guessed that Stu­art Lit­tle di­rec­tor Thor Freuden­thal would never need to work blue. IT’S IM­POS­SI­BLE to at­tempt a sum­ma­tion of Vis­conti’s de­pic­tion of a fad­ing aris­toc­racy with­out reach­ing for big ad­jec­tives such as “sump­tu­ous” and “lav­ish”. Ev­ery­thing about the film, the di­rec­tor’s last, is swoon­ing and op­er­atic. It ought to be: 36 days, 15 florists and 120 wardrobe staff were re­quired to shoot the fi­nal ball scene. They don’t call it the Ital­ian Gone with the Wind for noth­ing.

Based on Giuseppe di Lampe­dusa’s in­ter­gen­er­a­tional epic, the film be­gins at an end­ing. As Garibaldi’s army marches in to claim Si­cily for a newly uni­fied Italy, world-weary Prince Fabrizio (Burt Lan­caster) knows the jig is up for the Risorg­i­mento. Still, the aris­to­crat is vis­i­bly shaken when Tan­credi, his dash­ing young nephew (Alain Delon), rides out to join the Garibaldi revo­lu­tion with the warn­ing: “If we want things to stay as they are, things have to change.” With these words the prince must coun­te­nance the un­think­able – his nou­veau riche neigh­bours will have to be in­vited over to din­ner.

There is, at the heart of the nar­ra­tive, a mi­nor ro­man­tic squab­ble: the Prince must sup­port Tan­credi’s mar­riage to the rich, heart-stop­pingly beau­ti­ful Clau­dia Car­di­nale, know­ing full well that his own daugh­ter is in love with the fel­low. It hardly mat­ters that the story be­gins and ends with this de­tail. No­body could ar­gue that The Leopard – a film that priv­i­leges spec­ta­cle – is overly concerned with plot.

Vis­conti, a left-lean­ing voter in life, in­stead prefers to let the op­u­lence do the talk­ing. Even the prince’s jaded res­ig­na­tion – “O faith­ful star! When will you give me an ap­point­ment less ephemeral than this!” – seems un­nec­es­sar­ily deca­dent. He and his di­rec­tor do, though, con­verge on one cru­cial point: the rich, un­for­tu­nately, will al­ways be with us.

The film Martin Scors­ese says he “lives by” has, since its ini­tial 1963 re­lease, in­spired count­less oth­ers, most no­tably Francis Ford Cop­pola’s The God­fa­ther. There’s a neat cir­cu­lar­ity about that saga’s al­lu­sions to a film that is, in it­self, de­fined by al­lu­sions. There’s a touch of John Ford in Vis­conti’s sun­baked red land­scapes, and the mu­si­cal num­bers chan­nel Busby Berkeley.

Even in 1963, Vis­conti’s gram­mar must have seemed weirdly anachro­nis­tic. In com­mon with its sub­jects and its charis­matic lead­ing man, The Leopard re­peat­edly tells us, “They don’t make ’em like this any more”.

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