Film Review – Middle School: The Worst Years Of My Life

 

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This family-friendly film ticks most of the boxes kids and parents could want from a school holiday flick.

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Based on the No. 1 New York Times best-seller from author James Paterson (best known for the 20 plus books in his Alex Cross crime series), the film tells the story of sixth-grader Rafe Khatchadorian (Griffin Gluck) who moves to a new school mid-term and struggles to follow the many rules of the strict Principal Dwight played by Andy Daly (Eastbound and Down).

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Rafe draws cartoons obsessively, in part as a coping strategy for the breakdown of his family unit. His single mother Jules – Lauren Graham (Lorelai Gilmore from the drama series Gilmore Girls) isn’t paying him enough attention as she divides time between her kids, her job, and her boyfriend, Carl aka Bear ( Rob Riggle – Step Brothers).

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Rafe is easy to like, and that’s before we see he is hurting from the stuff going on his life. His drawings are wonderful and he uses his imagination in a creative, positive way to escape from the pain he is in.

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Principal Wright is great fun to dislike, as he rules the school with an iron fist, quoting from his endless and pointless book of regulations, and it is on Rafe’s first day that the Principal throws Rafe’s precious book of drawings into a bucket of acid, which as the headmaster casually mentions, is kind of a stupid thing to have on hand in a school full of kids.

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Rafe, along with his pal Leo, hatch a plan to break as many of the rules as possible, using an acronym based on Rafe’s name – Rules Aren’t For Everyone.

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Naturally the boys find an ally in the form of the President (and only member) of the AV Club, fellow student Jeanne Galletta (Isabela Moner – Transformers: The Last Knight) who encourages the pranks, unaware that it is Rafe and Leo carrying them out.

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Technically the film is quite clunky in its writing, cinematography, and editing, and plays more like a TV show than a feature film. The strong performances from the key characters help to smooth over these not insignificant bumps, and when the film turns to animation to reveal what is going on in Rafe’s head, it brings to mind the incredible illustrations of the late 90s band formed by Damon Albarn – Gorillaz.

The animation is actually more reminiscent of the beautiful Brad Bird film The Iron Giant, which makes sense as two of the animators from animation studio Duncan Studio, head of studio KEN DUNCAN and animation supervisor CHRIS SAUVÉ, worked on the remastered edition of that film.

We keep cheering for Rafe as the odds against him continue to stack up in the form of his kid-hating potential step-dad…

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Along with the increasingly suspicious vice-principal Ida Stricker (Retta aka Donna Meagle on Parks and Recreationwho isn’t given a lot do to beyond acting as a confidante for Dwight when things don’t go his way.

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Thankfully Rafe has some good people in his corner, not the least of which is his younger sister Georgia (Alexa Nisenson) who lifts him up the best she can and cares deeply for him as things keep going south.

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The film operates most comfortably when Rafe is carrying out his pranks, and the final act is the strongest by far, with the previous two lacking the dynamism you’d expect from a similar film like say Goosebumps, or even last week’s older teen flick The Edge of Seventeen.

All in all it gets the job done of entertaining a pack of primary school aged children for a good couple of hours. It champions the message that it is OK to be different, and also that life can suck sometimes. Beyond the evil Principal Dwight and the horrible Carl, who are delightfully revolting, the films remaining cast are lightly sketched templates tat exist merely to propel the story along.

It’s not mediocre, it’s not great, it’s enjoyable enough and not painful so it has to pass the grade for me.

3 Stars. “A School Holidays Standard.”

 

 

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