Thursday, October 13, 2016

Movie Review #500: "Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life" (2016)

Movie"Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life"
Director: Steve Carr
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
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Rafe (Griffin Gluck) has just transferred to a new school after being expelled from a few others. His new school has a strict code of conduct that fights against any individuality, focusing only towards the standardized test called the BLAAR. When the principal confiscates Rafe's sketch pad and destroys it, Rafe decides to get even by breaking every rule in the code of conduct handbook.

"Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life" is directed by Steve Carr, who has done a great disservice by bringing the movie watching public films like "Daddy Daycare" and "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." Needless to say, we didn't have the highest expectations for this movie based on this fact alone. The film is based on a book by James Patterson who, oddly enough, is known for his crime thriller novels "Kiss The Girls" and "Along Came a Spider." This is not a thriller and it's not really crime story, unless you count filling a storage room with plastic ball pit balls a crime. It's about a troubled kid named Rafe, played by Griffin Gluck, who has been kicked out of a couple of schools. He has been having trouble coping with a tragedy from his past. His main joy in life comes from drawing cartoons in his notebook. He stays up all night drawing tons of cool characters, monsters, and objects that come to life right before his eyes from the waves of his very active imagination. The principal at Rafe's new school, however, is a stickler for the rules and deems his notebook a violation of one of rules in his the code of conduct and destroys it right in front of him. Being understandably upset, Rafe decides to destroy the oppressive code of conduct by breaking every rule in the book with the help of his friend Leo, played by Thomas Barbusca.

This is a film totally targeted towards a middle school aged audience, complete with references to popular musicians, fart jokes, and bullying. It plays on the trope of the angsty pre-teen who is surrounded by adults who don't really listen or understand him. The only real exception is one teacher, Mr. Teller, played by Adam Pally, because we all had that one teacher who seemed to relate to their students no matter what they were going through (shout out to Mr. Smith!). We expected "Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life" to be stupid and very juvenile, and it is at times. It is intended for 11-13 year olds, after all. However, it also has a solid underlying message about the absurdity of standardized testing and the pressures kids face while not being allowed to have a childhood or be themselves. There is also a surprising amount of heart here as it deals with a subject that at first we thought was shoehorned in, until later when everything eventually clicked together nicely to make it work. This film can be genuinely touching, especially for a movie intended to be seen by kids.

That being said, "Middle School" is far from an A+ project. The acting is not very polished. When it comes to the child actors, we sort of understand and excuse it a little bit. But the adults? Most of the adult come off as very dry. BigJ is much more put off and annoyed by the performances of the adults than I am. The exception to this (for both of us) is Rob Riggle, who plays a really excellent villainous boyfriend for Rafe's flitty, oblivious, not so great mother Jules, played by Lauren Graham, who has not had a ton of success in films, but was very successful on the television shows "Gilmore Girls" and "Parenthood." If you already don't enjoy Riggle's over the top, in your face, brash, rude asshole shtick, you may not like his portrayal here, either. Also, Andrew Daly plays a really good overbearing and jerky principal with a penchant for following the rules.

In the end, "Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life" winds up not being a complete loss of time or brain cells. It is fairly cute despite all of the flaws in its acting, writing, camera work, and directing.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 60%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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