Friday, 18 August 2017

Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (2017) - Movie Review

Back in 2013 when I first started out on this kick of watching any new film I could get my hands on, I for some reason decided to watch a little film called Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. Aside from being yet another kids film that doesn’t have much value for adult audiences, it is also one of the biggest examples of White People Problems I’ve yet encountered in a modern release. Yeah, bit rich coming from someone who is white himself, but the air of privilege and minor inconvenience that so permeated the entire film can’t really be summed in any other way. That film was meant to be the final instalment in a trilogy, and since none of the other films fit my purview, I considered that series closed up for business and something I wouldn’t have to bother myself with again.
Then the trailers and posters for today’s film started surfacing and I went all Michael Corleone from Godfather III: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”. The sooner I get this over and done with, the sooner I can pull myself back out again, so let’s take a look at this latest installment and see how, somehow, it’s even worse than what came before it.

The plot: To celebrate her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday, Greg (Jason Drucker), his brothers Rodrick (Charlie Wright) and Manny (Wyatt and Dylan Walters), and his parents Susan (Alicia Silverstone) and Frank (Tom Everett Scott) are going on a road trip to their great-grandmother’s house. Desperately-trying-to-be-a-meme-hijinks ensue.

It is actually painful to see these actors participating in this story, and it’s not even out of any real attachment to the actors; I can count all of one person I recognize and yet I still think these actors deserve better. Drucker is okay as our lead, handling his status as the only logical-thinking member of the family quite well and managing to leave at least some dignity in this thing. Wright as his brother is amazingly obnoxious, gurning his face to within an inch of its life in most scenes and generally coming across as the bullying older brother caricature that we have seen many, many, MANY times before. Doesn’t help that he looks like the home brand version of Justin Long.
Scott as the father is decent, managing to balance out the inanity that surrounds him better than I was ever expecting, and a surprisingly-unrecognisable Silverstone… oh dear. Along with being another caricature trying desperately to relate to real-life, her impossible shrillness ends up burying the very Clark Griswold “We are going to have fun, goddammit!” attitude at the heart of her character. That said, she is exceptionally good at delivering premium Mom guilt, to the point of being scarily real. Trust me, that’s the closest this film ever gets to something like quantifiable reality.

I don’t think I have audibly groaned this much while watching a movie in a long-ass time. I know that comedy is a subjective thing and that outright saying “this is not funny” is kind of pointless, but there is a definite method to humour, what works and what doesn’t. Punchlines tend to work best the less you’re able to see them coming; the surprise is part of the initial emotional reaction, which leads to laughter. By that basis, this film is objectively unfunny. I say that because it is insane how many of the jokes are telegraphed well in advance, sometimes at least half an hour in advance, and then the punchline lands to the sound of crickets. Add to that the bodily function gags that are at least a decade old by this point and the attempts at cringe comedy that only succeed in the former, and you have a pretty lame bedrock for a film that is meant to primarily be about comedy.
And no, “it’s just for kids” isn’t good enough to excuse this. As much as children are easily distracted by certain things, kids are actually a lot smarter than most filmmakers give them credit for. If younger audiences end up questioning common sense during Alvin & The Chipmunks (check here for that story, because I still think that kid is made of awesome), I highly doubt that they’re going to accept this without getting bored and begging to leave the cinema or, in a more preferable situation, begging to watch something else. Besides, if parents are the main people going with kids to these movies, does it make too much sense to try and engage them too so long as they’re here? Unless you’re really nostalgic for the Spice Girls, I doubt that’s going to happen either. Although, to be fair, the call-back to that gag near the end is actually kind of sweet.

I mentioned Clark Griswold earlier, and honestly, the only other film I can compare this to is the 2015 remake of Vacation; this might be the single most damning thing I could say about any movie, bear in mind. Like Vacation, it’s a road trip movie meant to be taken piece-by-piece rather than as a whole, with each pit stop serving as its own punchline that the film stacks up together. Also like Vacation, the surreality of said pit stops really ends up damaging any attempt to be ‘relatable’. I denounced the previous Wimpy Kid film for just being ‘Rich White People Problems: The Movie’, and yet even that is preferable to this. Coming off of the heels of Cars 3 probably affected my mind state somewhat, but I’m not exactly laughing at the mockery of the American lower-class with this one; taking a literal neckbeard from understandably annoyed to “let’s steal this other family’s stuff” isn’t what I would call “funny” or “something I should be seeing in 20-fucking-17”.
Beyond that idiocy of a comedic foil, the idea of turning kid-centric dysfunction into a near-literal cartoon is okay but, as has been shown earlier this year with Middle School, it doesn’t seem like people know how to do this properly. As a result, when the family ends up adopting a pig by pure chance or being attacked by hideously-CGI birds, I can’t really say that I find something relatable about these situations. I grew up a white suburbanite; I should be able to see something of myself in this if it’s being this broad, right?

Well, we get dangerously close to exactly that once we get into Greg’s Internet subplot. For reasons that genuinely looked like a dream sequence but weren’t, Greg ends up as an Internet meme with him waving a used diaper around. I don’t know why I keep coming across this but, seriously, can we get people to understand what the term “viral” actually means? By this film’s definition, my review for Sir Noface has gone “viral”; I don’t see a lot of people showing inordinate lenience towards ghost-hunting in response, even for a joke. Once we get to the biggest running gag of the entire film, consisting mainly of people watching and re-enacting ‘Diaper Hands’ throughout the trip, you start to realise how desperate this film truly is to get a laugh. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen way too many try-hards on YouTube try to get famous through similar means, but I don’t buy it.
Then Greg ends up in a gaming convention and I wound up turning into Greg with how I finally felt at home in this sort of situation. Hell, the inclusion of Mac Digby (Joshua Hoover), a Let’s Player, is weirdly progressive and shows that the writers here have at least some awareness of web culture. Not that that lasts for long, though, as it quickly gets intercepted by the same tired gags spoken by tired archetypes that ends up tiring the audience. Honestly, the best thing I can say about this film is that at least it isn’t Nerve-levels of misunderstanding modern technology. The ‘limited screen time’ rule of the road trip does feel realistic, and it even features reasonable, non-kiddified arguments both for and against it. Have to admit, I have some respect for that as a person who might as well be surgically attached to his own laptop.

All in all, while there are elements of this film that I can give some props for, and part of me gets a kick out of the old-school film references that show up every so often, this is yet another pointless and excruciatingly unfunny road trip movie. The comedy is so broad that I highly doubt it will appeal to anyone, even kids, the set pieces are incredibly lame and don’t even work on live-action cartoon logic, and while I can’t fault the actors too much given the ‘characters’ they have to work with, they’re not exactly breaking their backs to make them any more palatable.

No comments:

Post a Comment