Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life online movie review - Not What I Expected
James Patterson's series about Rafe Katchadorian's middle school escapades comes to the big screen with "The Worst Years of My Life"?book one in the series.
Rafe (Griffin Gluck) transfers to a new school where Principal Dwight (Andy Daly) has a list of rules that has turned student's metaphorical "prison" description into reality. Rafe, with the help of his best friend Leo, make it their mission to break every single one of the rules.
This is most definitely a tween movie for the age group that does not fit into full-fledge PG-13 films, but feel they're too old to be entertained by Disney/Pixar animation. Enter the mash-up of the two. We're given live-action that takes the 1985 classic, Real Genius, where students rebel against the authority figure in creative fashion, and combines it with the animated narration of the kid's show, Lizzie McGuire, with Rafe's imagination running wild and bringing his art to life.
So why did 26-year-old me see this film? A school that wants to extinguish creativity and forces the creative students to rebel to bring back the art. How could I resist? Admittedly I have no artistic talent with a sketchbook or paint, but I write, and I have a close friend who is the type of artist whose heart ached when she watched the principal throw the sketchbook in a bucket of acid. My heart ached too, but that's because I firmly believe art and creativity belong in all schools.
True, I was not the target audience, and those suffering through middle school or even high school are more likely to love this movie, but I still enjoyed it. The various pranks, each one more creative than the last, was awesome to watch. The obvious theme of "anything you can imagine is real" definitely hits home.
Even with all the pranks the film still has a very cookie-cutter, Disney Channel vibe with the age-appropriate humor and villains who spout ridiculous rhetoric and act more childish than those watching. At one point Rafe and Leo are trying to determine what rhymes with "suck" and we know what they want to say, but they can't for obvious reasons, but that turns into a dramatic pause that places too much attention on the censored language of the PG rating. While the school bully and mom's boyfriend are just obstacles for Rafe to overcome.
Everything is on-the-nose with Rafe's comebacks to the bully, the checklist for rules broken, the payback to Carl the bear of a stepfather, and everything falls into place. Rafe shoots to stardom for his pranks, gets the girl, the friends, and wins?not that we'd expect anything different from this type of movie where the kids are misunderstood and adults are out to get them.
However, I will admit that when I saw the film I was surprised by the more serious criticism of standardized testing and "teaching to the test rather than the student". As a teacher I have a mixed relationship with standardized testing. I understand the benefits, for students applying to college, schools needing funding, and states trying to determine how they'll measure comprehension. On the other hand, I also feel focusing so much energy on these tests is problematic for teachers trying to teach the students in a way that is engaging and beneficial. Especially when no two students are alike.
It's likely most of the "tween" crowd watching the film were too distracted by the antics to catch that message, but there is another surprise to the film that adds another dimension that is impossible to miss. One that the trailer fails to include in its desire to present this film as another classic school comedy. The film is funny, but definitely not as funny as it leads us to believe.