Review: Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life
Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life is more than just a slightly unwieldy title, it’s a film that is about more (or perhaps less) than it appears.
It’s billed as a family-friendly film, and as such, tonally, it veers a little bit too hard in each direction, perhaps dealing with subjects that may be a little too difficult for younger members of the audience, and yet does not seem to strike the right balance to be a film for adults.
However, the film does get one aspect correct, and this is to focus on the proper way of conducting a rebellion, which is quite focused and also a mediation on dealing with a traumatic event, which the movie handles by offering a pretty surprising though subtle enough to work swerve.
The film is about middle-schooler Rafe Khatchadorian, whose look does not seem to fit with background, (he’s played by (Griffin Gluck). He’s bounced out of two schools in the last year, before ending up at Hills Village Middle School (sounding very Back to the Future) and run by the ultra-authoritarian Principal Dwight (Andy Daly) and vice principal Ida Stricker (Retta). Why two very funny comedians are stuck playing unfunny roles is perhaps better left unspoken, while the cool teacher Mr. Teller (Adam Pally) is a better fit, (American audiences hopefully enjoying a bit about Free Trade using Drake and Future as much as Canadians). Pally’s Mr. Teller seems to be far more interesting than the sorely underused disciplanarians.
Rafe’s home life doesn’t seem much better either, as his mother Jules, a Sous-Chef (?) is in the company of Man-Bear Carl (Jules is played by Lauren Graham and Carl by Rob Riggle). The scenes at home feel like broad comedy delivered solely to illustrate how his mother needs to see beyond how boorish her new partner has become. In a sense, the entire film (based on a series of books by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts) seems to be about letting go and confronting the past head on, which seems to work more effectively when not dealing with stock characterization and general clownishness. Rafe is given a girlfriend in waiting, Jeanne (Isabela Moner), who sadly isn’t given much to do besides being a junior environmentalist. She is also involved in some sort of sprinkler-induced fever dream at the school.
Even the animation scenes feel a little choppy, and one is left to wonder if director Steve Carr can rein it all in. Despite the critiques, there are a few cute scenes, some well meaning ones, and a feeling that the true heart of the film is languishing in the middle.