Who's In It: Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron, Devon Bostick, Chloe Moretz, Rachael Harris, Steve Zahn
The Basics: The second-smallest boy in his class endures a variety of middle school horrors--school plays, gym class "shirts vs skins" day, getting beaten up by girls, having friends who are even dorkier and more childish than he is--but weathers them thanks to his own observant wit. He also has to deal with a metaphorical piece of moldy processed cheese (which equals gross which equals cooties which equals his life) that someone left out on the playground. That's about it. But then, that's all it sort of has to be about.
What's The Deal: Middle school has been done to death. By this point we all know what a nightmare it was. (And if it wasn't one for you then you were the prettiest, most popular girl or that guy who was shaving by age 12 and the truth is that everyone else secretly despised or feared you.) But this movie's target audience is experiencing that reality for the first time, which means it's never the wrong moment to let them know that the condition is relatively temporary. So while you, the adult chaperone, may experience déjà vu and/or annoyance at all the urine, booger and flatulence humor, your kids are going to think its themes were invented just for them and will crack up at the body function gags. Kids have that one thing over adults: they know farting is always hilarious. Even more importantly, it may help shore up the internal reserve of dignity in your own wimpy kid.
Surprises: Chloe Moretz (the too-smart little sister in (500) Days of Summer and the foul-mouthed Hit Girl in Kick-Ass) makes a funny impression as the spooky girl who reads Allen Ginsberg. So does Robert Capron as the chubby friend who doesn't seem to care that he's a social pariah. And Zachary Gordon, as the wimpy kid of the title, seems to be aiming for a Ferris Buehler-esque omniscience and superiority and, while he doesn't quite pull it off all the way, I was down for his struggle. Your own enjoyment of that sort of kid character will be based on how easily annoyed you are by the schtick.
Where it Comes From: A series of books by Jeff Kinney that have sold nearly 30 million copies; a script by Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo, Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah, whose names I mention here not because you know who they are but because Sachs and Judah wrote some for Freaks and Geeks. It gives the movie even more credibility and you can feel a little bit of that show's hilarious mortification running through it. Directed by Thor Freudenthal, who made Hotel for Dogs, which, believe it or not, was not the worst film ever.
Where To Go Next: Thoughtful, cool parents will eventually press Sixteen Candles and Rushmore on their rapidly maturing adolescents. Even cooler, no-rules-having guardians will let their charges watch Over the Edge and Fat Girl. I take no responsibility for recommending those last two.