Most of the time you can look at a movie and easily surmise the plan the filmmakers want for its future. With Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, it is pretty easy to infer that director Steve Carr and company hoped adapting a popular young adult novel into a feature film would kick off an anthology of its other books, possibly ending in a TV series. But, sadly, this product arrives premature. You can and should expect as much from the man who directed both Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009) and Daddy Day Care (2003), as this too stalls at that level of inanity.
Middle School tells the story of Rafe (Griffin Gluck), a pre-teenager dealing with both the death of his younger brother and his father’s departure from the family unit by throwing himself into his drawings at the same time he transfers to a new school at the start of sixth grade. While that could have been an interesting tale, the film eschews many of the intriguing aspects of his impending adolescent introspection to go for the more sanitized aspects of Rafe’s acts of rebellion against an oppressive academic administrator in the form of Principal Dwight (Andy Daly).
To be fair, there are attempts in the film’s brief 92-minute runtime at exploring the boy’s fractured relationships with a well-meaning mother (Lauren Graham), her new meathead boyfriend (the always obnoxious Rob Riggle), a petulant younger sister (Alexa Nisenson), a crush (Isabela Moner) and the “cool teacher who gets him” (Adam Pally). But the thrust of the antics revolve around the us-versus-them mentality most teenagers adopt toward their education.
It’s all a little rote and stereotypical. As someone who has taught in the public school system, I find it more than a little belittling when media of any kind decides to pit public school students against those in charge of their emotional and academic development. The result paints the picture with all-too-wide a brush and usually only in the most convenient colors. There are only so many “we hate homework” and “standardized testing sucks” jokes one can stomach before deciding those telling them are simply too lazy to search for new material.
Daly’s condescending antagonist is pretty much the same character he plays to aplomb in TV’s Eastbound and Down and Modern Family, but this time it appears his performance is geared more toward creating a recurring character for future iterations instead of focusing on the work right in front of him. This is the case for most of those involved in the production. You can sense everyone felt this would be just the first in a series of Middle School stories they would get to tell (since the movie was made by CBS Films, that is no stretch), but they were all looking so far into the future they forgot to build a solid foundation in the now.
Much like the time in a child’s life it intends to chronicle, Middle School is an awkward prediction of what might come to pass later, based on the wildly fluctuating present. Pre-teenage audiences may enjoy watching kids stick it to The Man, but anyone older will wisely wonder if they should wait for things to mature at a later date. The answer to that question on the test is a standardized “no.” Rated PG for rude humor throughout, language and thematic elements.
Now playing at Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande Stadium 15 and UA.Beaucatcher Cinemas 7