In between the first two Atlanta-filmed box-office blockbusters of the year (“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “The Fate of the Furious”) and our first big Georgia-produced popcorn flick of the summer (“Baywatch,” due out May 25) comes “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” coming out Friday.
It’s the fourth movie to be adapted from author Jeff Kinney’s best-selling series, but the first to film here.
“This one was really different, ” Kinney said during a Sunday morning interview. “The first three filmed in Vancouver. We needed a different landscape. Georgia was really perfect.”
Here’s the trailer:
The movie, as with the books, revolves around Greg Heffley (played this time by Jason Drucker) and his family. In “Long Haul,” the Heffleys set out on a road trip where various high jinks quickly ensue. The cross-country drive to grandma’s 90th birthday party somehow involves a piglet, assorted bugs and rodents and a flock of seagulls, not to mention lots – lots – of bathroom humor.
One scene takes place at a country fair, where attractions include both deep-fried sticks of butter and herky-jerky carnival rides. The ensuing vomit bit is pretty much a given.
“I think this movie is the most faithful to the books, ” Kinney said. “It was the first book I wrote to be adapted to a film.”
The movie stars Alicia Silverstone as Greg’s humorless and overbearing mom, Tom Everett Scott as his doofus dad, Charlie Wright as his alternately clueless and conniving big brother Rodrick and 4-year-old twins Dylan and Wyatt Walters as his baby brother Manny. It filmed at a fair in Griffin, Stone Mountain Park, a private home in Roswell and the Georgia International Convention Center, among other local spots.
Drucker, Wright, Kinney and the twins turned out for a red carpet screening of the movie Sunday afternoon at Atlantic Station. The event was hosted by Atlanta Hawks player Dwight Howard in conjunction with his D12 Foundation, which works with kids. (Since Sunday was Mother’s Day, Howard revealed the surprise gift he had arranged for mom Sheryl Howard, who also attended. They’re headed to Australia.)
Kinney was a cartoonist at his college newspaper while at the University of Maryland and initially pursued syndication. When that didn’t work out he combined his love of drawing with stories based on memories from his childhood to launch the “Wimpy Kid” series. There are more than 180 million copies in print.
“My books were originally written for adults,” he said. “I was trying to write one big book that was really looking back at childhood. I certainly didn’t set out to get kids reading.”
That’s exactly what’s happened, though. His publisher saw a young-adult series that’s become many young readers’ entry into lasting reading habits. Today Kinney and his wife own a book store, An Unlikely Story.
“What I’ve come to realize is the importance of putting a book into a kid’s hands,” said Kinney, who liked reading Judy Blume as a kid, before transitioning to the fantasy fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien and Piers Anthony. “I love to think my books are going to get kids on a path to reading.”
The mayhem in “Long Haul” gets pretty wacky (Why is there a pig in the minivan? What’s with all these seagulls?) but were inspired by tamer childhood recollections.
“Everything starts with a seed of truth,” he said. “The seagull scene was loosely based on a scene where we had live crabs get loose in the car (during a road trip).”
He’d like to return for a fifth “Wimpy Kid” movie and beyond.
“Because Greg is a middle school kid you’re tempted to think these books are about middle school,” he said. “They’re about this family that’s going through struggles all families go through.”