Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Case of the Imaginary Friend
So I finally sat myself down and watched the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie the other day. I felt properly prepared to do so. I had read the review by Claire E. Gross over at Horn Book. I had read The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary. I was pumped. I was ready. So my husband and I sat down with the original book in front of us and popped in the DVD.
No one had prepared us for the invisible friend. But I get ahead of myself.
Yes, the movie of Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a strange little mixture. On the one hand, there is much that is admirable about it. They actually hired kids to play kids and not 25-year-olds. They kept referring back to the book, in an almost fearful way. You got the sense that they understood perfectly how holy a text this was and that the only way they were going to get kids on their side would be by going back to it over and over again. And they did something that I rather hoped for. When I originally heard that the film was going to be live action I prayed that it would skew closer to those bizarre films of the 1980s like Better Off Dead than current and contemporary children’s films (like, say, Cats & Dogs). To my delight, I sort of got my wish. Like weirdo 80s films there were some animated sequences worked in there. There were also moments of pure ridiculousness, like the just-be-yourself informational video the kids are forced to watch that makes beautiful fun of 1980s tropes and fashions.
Unfortunately, that wonderful sequence led to one of the problems with the movie. Hollywood just wasn’t prepared for Greg Heffley. When Greg watches the ridiculous film he sees with a mild sneer that Rowley and Fregley have both been deeply touched. This leads him to think to himself that he’s going to follow the film’s advice, which is an incredibly not-Greg thing to do. The reason kids like the book is that Greg is unapologetic in his awfulness. He’s often punished for it, but not always. So that sequence where Greg lets Rowley take the hit for something he himself did is in the film. And when his mother says he should “do the right thing” and he does . . . by not fessing up, that too is in the film. But then the message is reversed entirely. Greg confesses to the crime. He continues to feel bad. Hollywood cannot cope with a child that doesn’t have a sterling conscience hidden away somewhere. In her review, Ms. Gross put it best when she said, “The screenwriters seem torn between making Greg more sympathetic, and making the world less cruel.”
But this is not a huge problem and one might still enjoy the movie in spite of this new version of Greg. No, my problem with the film was the invisible friend.
Though I have no proof of any of this, here is how I believe the production of Diary of a Wimpy Kid went down. The film was finished to some extent and previewed to The Powers That Be. TPTB took one look at it and said, “It’s great, but boy there just aren’t any girls in there right?” Someone might have pointed out the presence of the mom and Patty, but for the most part that’s correct. “Yeah. So, here’s what I’m thinking. Why don’t we just reshoot a whole bunch of these scenes and add in this new girl character. We’ll make it that Chloe Moretz girl. She’s slated to be in Kick-Ass soon, and we think this could really be a good star vehicle for her. Make her, like, Greg’s conscience or something.” Someone might have asked how one would go about incorporating a whole new character that is not in the book into the film. “I don’t know! Do I have to think of everything? Just make her the school photographer or something. Then she can be in all the scenes but not actually, y’know, have to interact with anyone.”
You may laugh, but try watching the film with the knowledge that it was originally created without Chloe Moretz. It’s remarkable. Observe.
Here is our first glimpse of the new character “Angie Steadman”. Your first shot is under some bleachers. So right off the bat you get a girl that is supposed to be a loner (note her copy of Howl in hand) and also is conveniently far away from any groups where she would have to be awkwardly integrated.
At this point we began to realize that Chloe primarily appears when Greg and Rowley are alone. This suggests that the reshoots really only required these two actors and a couple extras to be present.
She often comes out of nowhere to offer advice. So I began to watch the movie with the idea that maybe Chloe is a figment of Greg’s imagination. And maybe Rowley is such a stand-up guy that he pretends to see her too. After all, she only speaks to one character aside from Rowley and Greg in this film, and it’s at the end.
Here’s the most definite evidence that Chloe wasn’t in the original script. One minute she’s walking down the hallway with our heroes . . .
. . . and the next minute *poof!* She’s gone!
Well, maybe not gone, but rather she’s been turned into a boy. It’s a very funny scene. You never even see her peel off. One minute she’s there. The next, you’re back in the original script.
Chloe’s sole purpose, it seems, is to reiterate over and over how important it is to be yourself and not seek popularity. The filmmakers found other ways to drop her into scenes, though. There’s the school play . . .
And Chloe gets a whole scene all to herself.
Pity the poor child actor that was hired as “the photographer” only to be replaced by Chloe’s character. I’m sure there was one in the original script. But giving Chloe this job was a good idea. It allows her to seemingly be in scenes where she wasn’t before.
Finally, you get to the end of the film. This is fun. Watch what they do with Chloe in the crowd scenes.
There’s Chloe. And one other headless extra.
And finally, BIG CROWD! No Chloe.
At the end of the movie she interacts briefly with Patty, saying a line that could easily have been Greg’s once. Then the two boys and their invisible friend laugh into the distance.
So if you find yourself watching this film at any point in the future, let me know what you think. The way she pops in and out of scenes that seem to have been done in reshoots is remarkable. This girl was clearly an afterthought. And though The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary never says as much, Chloe’s presence is reduced to a single mention on a single page. Proof positive that that too was added at the last minute? The world may never know.
Thanks to Matt for helping me with the screen captures!
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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