First thing’s first: for those not in the know, Middle School is years 7 and 8, meaning the characters of ‘Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life’ are too young to be involved in sex, drugs or rock and roll, and too old to involve puppets or talking animals. Basically, it’s a small, niche market that almost seems made up, and yet here we are. Also, this movie is based on a book series so for this film in particular - so even though its title involves the word “years”, the events actually only take place over a few short months.
Rafe Katchadorian (Griffin Gluck, ‘Why Him?’) is starting a new school after being expelled from his last one. He’s a good kid but dealing with his absent father and the recent death of his brother, Rafe has retreated into his own world of cartoons that he obsessively draws day and night and imagines come to life. There’s also his mum’s (Lauren Graham) evil boyfriend Bear (Rob Riggle), a major douche who Rafe and his sister Georgia (Alexa Nisenson) actively try to ruin. Luckily Rafe has his best friend Leo (Thomas Barbusca) by his side. But when Rafe comes face-to-face with the oppressive head of his new school, Principal Dwight, with his iron fist and his epic book of rules, the pair don’t see eye-to-eye. Rafe makes it his mission to break every one of those rules and jeopardise the results of Principal Dwight’s precious BLAAR test - a standardised test that ensures the school’s top ranking.
‘Middle School’ has the spirit of a very PG-rated Ferris Bueller. Given the demographic here, of course this film is very tame when it comes to its “shenanigans”. Personally I don’t believe that from a marketing standpoint this demographic really exists. Between the internet, social media and a tweenagers' overwhelming desire to grow up fast, this middle school area is incredibly grey and kids tend to fly through it as fast as they can, desperate to reach to the other side. In my opinion, this film exists for parents who still strictly believe in and comply with film ratings - who send there kids off to see ‘Middle School’ when all they want to see is ‘Why Him?’ or ‘Resident Evil’?
‘Middle School’ has the spirit of a very PG-rated Ferris Bueller.
Nonetheless, this movie is cute and has its funny moments, but the real surprises come with the twist - yes, there’s a twist! - which gives the film a real kick of emotional depth that left even this reviewer with her jaw agape. There’s nothing particularly memorable here. Seeing as it’s based on a book series I’d say to encourage your kids to read the books instead of watching yet another screen for another 92 minutes, but hey, I’ll let you do the parenting.