Middle School

2016-12-30 09:05

What it's about:

A quiet teenage artist, Rafe Katchadorian has a wild imagination and is sick of middle school and the rules that have been put before him. Rafe and his best friend Leo have come up with a plan: Break every rule in the school handbook. Trouble follows.

What we thought:

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, to give it its full title, is based on the first of a series of children's books of the same name by publishing sensation James Patterson and Chris Tebbets and it is clearly aimed at exactly the age group its title suggests. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, especially since it should work brilliantly for its target audience, but is there anything there for parents who accompany their kids to the cinema over the rest of the holiday season?

Surprisingly, the answer is more positive than you might perhaps think.

This is not a film that anyone in their right mind would recommend for adults to choose to go see themselves but it is, largely, a perfectly amiable, even charming little film that might even strike the right nostalgic chord from time to time. And, despite the fact that its humour is very, very juvenile, I would be lying if I said I didn't giggle a few times – which, frankly, is more than certain “adult” comedies manage to get out of me.

Now, the film's flaws are extremely obvious – from its occasionally ropey (though actually mostly fine) acting, its flat direction, its inevitable fluffiness and its very weird, thoroughly misjudged turn to the tragic – and I certainly don't agree that such things don't matter when dealing with (older) kids films but there is something genuinely admirable - even surprisingly so – about the film's anarchic spirit.

This is not a film that tells kids to follow adult authority figures blindly and it's most certainly not a film that suggests that there's nothing to the certain real level of disempowerment that kids feel at the hands of their parents, teachers and pretty much every adult in their lives. With its unabashedly, if understandably innocuous, anti-authoritarian streak, its willingness to confront the feelings of kids at this age and its keen emphasis on individuality, creativity and empowerment, it's not hard to see why the books are such a hit with middle schoolers (which is the equivalent of grades 6 to 8, apparently) and why they’re sure to enjoy the film itself.

It also helps that the kids in the cast, though playing rather younger than they actually are, are extremely likeable and that the adult cast, mostly includes a number of perfectly respectable, sometime flat out excellent actors mostly known for their TV work like Lauren Graham, Adam Pally and Reta and comedians, such as Rob Riggle and Andrew Daly.

The latter, in particular, is really good goofy fun as the totally over the top Principal Dwight, clearly relishing the chance to let his silly flag fly. As for the very promising Griffin Gluck as the film's hero, the kid clearly has a future in the business – what with his appearing in two films this very week (the other being the moderately amusing Why Him? - which, actually, despite being easier to recommend to older audiences is actually a less successful at engaging its audience than Middle School is).

Again, this doesn't all change the fact that, if you fall even slightly outside of the targeted age group, there's really no need to see this. But, if your child (or you, for that matter) are the right age, this is one of the better live-action holiday offerings out there and one with its heart firmly in the right place.

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