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Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life – Movie Review

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Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy eOne Films

There’s an entire sub-genre of the schoolyard comedy where the children are smarter than the adults and runs on the idea of kid empowerment. Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life continues that tradition of films, but while the usual clichés of bullies and one-dimensional antagonists show up, there’s a surprising poignancy that elevates it above the typical sitcom one might see on Nickelodeon. There’s a genuine attempt to bring heart to the proceedings along with laughs, plus a good message about the importance of individuality and creativity and this ends up being a lot smarter than one might imagine.

Middle School starts with the basic premise of a tyrannical school principal and the creative free-spirit wanting to break the rules. While not all of the comedic gags hit their mark, it’s easy to admire the film’s message against the strict need for conformity supported by many school boards. Andrew Daly relishes the part of Principal Dwight, who goes from goofy antagonist to evil rule creator more interested in test scores than the growing minds of the students. Griffin Gluck does decently as the film’s pre-teen hero, showing both his frustration at the school’s policies and his genuine want to help his mother see what a terrible boyfriend she has. Refreshingly, Rafe’s relationship with his younger sister manages to avoid the sibling rivalry so common with films of this ilk.

One of the more cliché plot elements nudged into the film involve the aforementioned boyfriend character, which goes through every expected plot beat, including the mother completely oblivious to his self-centered actions. The bully continually tormenting Rafe is also a worn trope, right down to hating him for no realistic reason other than he’s the protagonist. The notion that this school has no security cameras in this post-Columbine world is also unusual, but that’s easy to hand wave as this is meant to be a child’s wish-fulfillment fantasy. One of the best aspects of Middle School comes in the form of hand-drawn animated sequences, supervised by Ken Duncan. Coming straight out of Rafe’s sketch book, these are inspired segments which almost makes one think of the potential this premise also has for a weekly animated series.

Where Middle School most surprises is the poignancy director Steve Carr and his trio of credited screenwriters bring to the project. The film takes a turn into rather mature territory that will certainly resonate with some younger members of the audience, along with their parents. This is a plot point that could have fallen flat, but it’s done with complete sincerity and takes what has been a mildly diverting family comedy to an extra level. It’s an admirable direction that gives further development to the characters and explores precisely why Rafe goes out of his way to break the rules, rather than just for the sheer fun of it. There’s something more meaningful there and it makes it even easier to root for him to succeed.

It would have been easy for Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life to be just another run of the mill film about child empowerment and merely relying on simple gags. Yet it takes the additional step of actually giving its character proper motive and drive. It is always important to put individuality above anything else when raising the younger generation and the film’s pointed criticisms of standardized tests and other rubrics school boards so often fall into are greatly appreciated. While it may not reach the same wit as the recent Diary of a Wimpy Kid films, it succeeds in other areas, ones that make Middle School stand out among the rest of the crop.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

Stefan Ellison