The kid is all right
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”.