Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life Review

middle-schoolIt might surprise you to hear it but I think the pre-teen demographic is one of the  most underserved at the movies, especially with live action films.  There are lots of films made for younger and lots made for older but rarely is something really made with them in mind. The last good film for that demographic was Disney’s Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day.While today’s film, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, isn’t as good, it has entertaining elements for its target demographic including humor, heart and fun animated sequences.

Based on the novel by James Patterson, Middle School focuses on a kid named Rafe (Griffin Gluck) who is starting at a new school under rule of Principal Dwight (Andy Daly). Rafe has lost a loved one in his life and is grieving, which has caused him to move around from school to school. Principal Dwight makes it clear to Rafe on the first day of class that he is living under a new regime with a strict rulebook. Rafe is a creative kid and finds these rules frustrating and unfair. Principal Dwight is also focused more on standardized testing than on actual learning.middle-school3When Principal Dwight destroys Rafe’s artbook filled with sketches Rafe and a friend seek revenge through a series of pranks that go from silly (dying the principal’s hair brought me back to Home Alone) to creative (a post-it note display is completely impossible for him to do in one night but very pretty). I think kids will get a big kick out of these kind of pranks and the actors pull off the physical comedy well.

middle-school2There was a surprising amount of heart in Middle School particularly with the family grieving over the loss of their loved one. I admit I teared up in a few moments. Lauren Graham is wonderful as usual as Rafe’s mother. I think kids will really be able to relate to what the family is going through which to me make it better than a pure slapstick film.

middle-school6The animation segments are also really cool. I wish there were even a few more of them but they pop off the screen and feel like a doodle come to life. It was a creative touch I didn’t expect from this kind of movie. It kind of reminded me of the claymation in Better Off Dead.

middle-school5Where the movie falters is in a plotline with Rob Riggle- a comedian I have never liked. He plays Rafe’s Mom’s fiance and is named ‘The Bear’ and is animated as an obese bear in several segments. He is right out of any ‘I’m sending these brats to boarding school” (literally) that we’ve seen in a million other movies. There is absolutely no reason to believe Mom and Bear would be together or that she would put up with him and it really dragged the movie down.

The thing is we don’t need another villain at home. Principal Dwight is more than enough to keep things going. If you think about Ferris Beuller’s Day Off his parents are kind of a non-entity and it is better that way. Edward Rooney is more than enough of an antagonist for the film to work. Andy Daly also has enough charm as Principal Dwight that he can stand on his own.

Middle School_CBSFilms_FrankMasi_2015_17411.RAFI also wish it was just a little bit funnier.  There was nothing that made me laugh as hard as the DMV scene in Alexander and the Terrible Day. As it is it feels like the humor you get in a Disney Channel TV show, which isn’t bad just not hilarious.

middle-school7I have a feeling critics will focus too much on the flaws of this film, so it may have a low RT score. Trust me. If you have a child in the target demographic, don’t pay attention to that.  Take them. I really think they will like it. If you don’t than it is probably a pass and maybe catch it on cable or streaming later on.

It could be better but it still was a decent example of this type of formula film. Plus, the heart and creative touches made it an engaging watch.

Overall Grade- B-  (If any of you see it, let me know what you think)

25 New Titles to National Film Registry

Fun news today in the movie world.  25 films have been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation including some of my personal favorites.  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Saving Private Ryan, Will Wonka and the Chocolate Factory would certainly be on my short list of favorite films.  Many of the choices I have not seen so I better get on it.

Neat too that Luxo Jr is being archived as it started Pixar in their artistry and vision.  House of Wax is also a lot of fun for a campy old school horror movie and you can’t beat Vincent Price in a scary movie.  I must own I have not seen The Big Lebowski because of the language but I know many love it or hate it.  Seems a very divisive movie.

The thing I love about Ferris Bueller is someone told me that the whole point was to save Cameron’s life and  the whole movie had more meaning to me. It could be fan fiction but if you think of the day and how it all leads to Cameron confronting his father and the car it kind of makes sense.  It turns from a silly comedy to something with real heart. But even that aside it has great style and laughs.  Look at this scene and remember this kind of heart is in a comedy. Great writing and acting.

Saving Private Ryan is such an immersive experience.  It feels like you are on D-Day with the invasion storming the beach.  Spielberg is so great at those big moments but there are also the intimate moments with great actors like Tom Hanks and Matt Damon.  Some movies we watch for entertainment and others are to help us empathize with the human race and understand our history.  Saving Private Ryan helped me do all of that.

Willie Wonka is still the best Roald Dahl adaptation.  His books are so hard to adapt because he has a darkness to his stories that can come off as too scary and mean spirited on film.  I don’t mind any of the film adaptations especially Witches with Angelica Houston but Wonka is still the best.  It’s magical, dark, nuts, strange and has terrific songs.  If anything the Tim Burton disaster showed us how great the original was.  It’s also emblematic of the 70s  in fashion and film, which is fun.

The rest of these I need to get on it and see! What about you?  What have you seen and what do you think?

13 Lakes

“Bert Williams Lime Kiln Club Field Day” (1913)

“The Big Lebowski” (1998)

“Down Argentine Way” (1940)

“The Dragon Painter” (1919)

“Felicia” (1965)
“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ (1986)

“The Gang’s All Here” (1943)

“House of Wax” (1953)

“Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport” (2000)

“Little Big Man” (1970)

“Luxo Jr.” (1986)

“Moon Breath Beat” (1980)

“Please Don’t Bury Me Alive!” (1976)

“The Power and the Glory” (1933)

“Rio Bravo” (1959)

“Rosemary’s Baby” (1968)

“Ruggles of Red Gap” (1935)

“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)

“Shoes” (1916)

“State Fair” (1933)

“Unmasked” (1917)

“V-E + 1” (1945)

“The Way of Peace” (1947)

“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971)