And this is the movie’s real secret. Based on Thomas Rockwell’s hugely popular book of the same name, it taps directly into the mentality of an 11-year-old boy. Many children’s stories are about children, but very few of them actually talk to children in ways they appreciate. How to Eat Fried Worms refuses to patronise, and never hesitates to jump headlong into silliness. It’s no wonder that Rockwell’s novel has sold nearly 3 million copies since it was first published in 1973.
Apart from being good fun, the movie also has a big heart and purity of intention that is refreshing. This sort of sincere emotion has largely disappeared out of popular culture, leaving kids to subsist on jaded irony and syrupy morality. How to Eat Fried Worms accomplishes what so many other films fail to do: it addresses a serious topic, in this case bullying, in a delightful and slyly educational way. And, although it does get a little mushy towards the end, there’s never any hint of the artificial moral sweetener that ruins so many other fun films.
The movie has its flaws of course. The young cast are enthusiastic, but often tend towards overacting and showing off. There is a largely irrelevant sub-plot involving the parents that is neither as funny or as interesting as what the kids are up to. It also deviates a great deal from the original book in ways that fans and purists might find disappointing or annoying.
And, of course, there is the consumption of the worms. Whether this is a flaw or not is largely up to the strength of your own stomach. The worms are made to look extremely realistic as they are cooked and eaten, but animal lovers can rest easy, not one real worm was killed or even hurt during the production. The real question is whether your 8-year-old will get any culinary ideas of his own.
In the end How to Eat Fried Worms delivers nothing more or less than the title promises. It gives us a taste of an idyllic, leafy suburban world in which kids can be kids, and the most scary thing you’ll have to face is the idea of eating a cooked worm. This is escapism, sure, but I’ll take it over sarcasm any day.
- Alistair Fairweather
How to Eat Fried Worms is the kind of messy, good-natured film that brings out the kid in all of us.
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