This may come as a surprise to you all, but I am not twelve years old. In fact, I am substantially older than twelve years old, and consequently I do not relate to many things that twelve year olds tend to enjoy. However, one of the things that my age affords me is perspective, and though my twelve year old self might have liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul just fine, as a bitter childless adult I have no qualms with saying that even among children’s entertainment this film is mediocre at best.
In what could be considered a soft reboot for a franchise that the original cast has aged out of, The Long Haul finds Greg (Jason Drucker) on a family road trip with his dumb older brother (Charlie Wright), his toddler brother, and his out of touch parents (Alicia Silverstone and Tom Everett Scott). As he and his brother cope with their mothers’ insistence that they unplug from the internet during their road trip, Greg plots to steer the family off-course to meet his favorite YouTube gamer at a video game convention so that he may star in a video with him.
To be fair to The Long Haul, it does actually set up a relatable conflict for modern children in how parents who didn’t grow up with the internet see modern children’s fascination with technology and viral culture as alienating, whereas kids don’t see enforced family bonding time as serving anyone’s interests but that of the parents who refuse to try to bridge that generational divide. There’s a nugget to truth in that, and it sets up Greg’s family for a redemptive arc wherein everyone learns a lesson about being considerate of one another’s wants and needs.
It’s rather unfortunate then that every time the film verges close to any sort of emotional honesty or cathartic release, some new wacky shenanigan arrives to tear the family asunder. Whether it’s an attack by a flock of seagulls, being harassed by a rival travelling family, or some sort of mishap involving bodily excretions, the gags arrive like clockwork, just in time to jangle like keys in front of a child audience the film has no faith in having patience for emotional resonance. I would like to believe that children are smarter than that sort of petty distraction, so while a lot of the Nickelodeon-inspired humor works on a base, functional level, the amount of it shoved into this scant ninety minutes is exhausting for anyone who has more than the shortest of attention spans.
I should reiterate that I am not the audience for Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul. I get that sometimes all a parent wants is to take their kids to something that will distract them long enough to give them respite, and if both of them can come out entertained, all the better. And I’m sure some parents will find the shenanigans on display endearing. But part of my job as a critic is to share a broader perspective, and if you aren’t twelve years old or twelve-year-old-adjacent, there just isn’t likely much for you to enjoy in this film.