Clearly I’m not the target audience for this film and probably can’t fairly review it, but I’m going to do the best I can with it. Middle School was aimed squarely at the younger audiences, but this actually helped me to watch it – translating everything from my worldview to someone else’s and try to see this film through their eyes and this stopped me from obsessing on logistics (saltwater fish don’t work that way, fabric dye doesn’t work that way, it would taken weeks to plan that, etc) and just to enjoy it for what it was.
Imaginative quiet teenager Rafe Katchadorian is tired of his middle school’s obsession with the rules at the expense of any and all creativity. Desperate to shake things up, Rafe and his best friends have come up with a plan: break every single rule in the school and let the students run wild.
Middle School was based on a book by the same name. I didn’t know that until I checked but there were moments when I suspected. Minor characters changed course without really having much reason to. Relationships were alluded to but never really shown. This actually did service to the plot, though, keeping things moving at a brisk pace and ending when it should. The pacing was unusually good – we know exactly what the character wanted and also what their goal was and how they planned to carry it off. This film was a perfect 92 minutes long.
I find myself saying I how much I enjoyed the acting in every review I make. Not really surprising, casting is one of the most important things, right up there with writing and visual design. So this time, I’ll just call out the my favorite performances on this one: Andrew Daly was a magnificently pompous and thin-skinned villain, Alexa Nisenson the precocious little sister who could fire off the fast lines and turn on the water works like I’ve never seen, and Rob Riggle playing the evil step father who reminded me of ‘The Douche’ from Sausage Party, was hilarious. I also really liked Griffin Gluck as Rafe and Thomas Barbusca as Leo; they played well off each other.
Minor spoilers here: one part that strained credulity was the love interest. Sure I’m being picky, the romantic element was so tiny it was barely there at all. But that’s my point, why not leave it out? Characters Rafe and Bella fall into orbit like they they were Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker, sharing a graceful little kiss at the film’s end. Unless things have changed a LOT since my day, ‘tweens’ (am I using that right?) are awkward, ridiculous and melodramatic, especially when it comes to their romantic interest. I found myself wondering why that was there.
When it comes to the visuals, Middle School got me right where I lived. I’m a sucker for that kind of ‘sketch’ animation. There were places where adding animation didn’t add much, but I was still glad it was there. Also wonderful was the physical comedy, which is probably pretty hard to get right. It was funny without being forced or distracting from other things.
So is Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life worth watching? That depends. If you’re under the age 15 then yes, definitely. this movie is for you. If not then that ‘yes’ is a little less enthusiastic but still yes. Middle School is still entertaining and very well done. I would have LOVED this movie when I was 11. It fit my worldview exactly – ordinary events were cartoonishly black and white, there were unreasonable rules for everything and most people were bastards. Actually not much has changed, come to think of it.