Rafe Khatchadorian (Griffin Gluck) has an epic imagination and a slight problem with authority, and these things collide when he transfers to a middle school where students are expected to follow the rules. This doesn’t sit well with Rafe. With help from his new friend Leo (Thomas Barbusca), the mischievous lad concocts schemes to drive his tyrannical principal (Andy Daly) crazy while also using his charm and wits to impress a girl (Isabela Moner) and battle the bullies.

I’ll always have somewhat of a soft spot for coming-of-age movies focusing on school – particularly the ups and downs of being a teenager. The Perks of Wallflower really set the bar high when it came out in 2012 as it was an emotionally charged, funny, and incredibly smart story that was able to touch the hearts of both kids and adults all around the world.

But my favorite coming-of-age movie is without a doubt Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen. Despite the fact that I’ve seen the film about ten times now, I still get the same amount of enjoyment out of it as I did the first time I watched it. It’s absolutely hysterically funny and features without a doubt the best Hailee Steinfeld performance that definitely should’ve been nominated during awards season, but it also masterfully shows how stressful a typical teenager’s high-school life is like.

Middle school, however, is not as stressful. You’re probably going to pass all the grades and the assignments you’re given in middle school are a piece of cake compared to the work you’ll do in high school, but there are definitely some downsides to being a kid in middle school, and while Steve Carr’s Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life doesn’t do the best job at depicting this, it’s nevertheless a film with a good message at its core with some solid performances.

Our lead protagonist Rafe Khatchadorian loves nothing more than to draw, draw, and draw. He has an entire book full of beautiful doodles that look amazing, and it’s his number one source of comfort. But when he transfers to a brand new middle school named Hills Village Middle School, he quickly meets the principal Kenneth Dwight who just may be the strictest principal ever.

Courtesy of Lionsgate

If this principal was real and existed in our reality, he would probably be fired rather quickly, because he essentially goes out of his way to make school an absolute nightmare for every kid by enlisting a large set of rules that are practically impossible to follow. In a sad scene early on in the film, Dwight takes Khatchadorian’s doodle book and drops it in a bucket of acid while he smiles upon seeing his student’s horrified face.

It’s this moment where Rafe knows that this principal is going much too far with his rules, and it’s then when he sets out to break every single rule in the book while trying to do so anonymously. The humor in Middle School seems like it would be quite funny and full of good fun slapstick for the whole family, but it’s just kind of lame, unfortunately. Every single person that works in this school comes across as a cartoon villain in all the wrong ways. Principal Dwight may as well be a mustache stroking villain here because he is so cliché.

Plus the film weirdly tries far too hard to pander toward a young demographic by putting the most famous songs at the time in the film. In just the first act, we hear “My House” by Flo Rida, “Cake by the Ocean” by DNCE, and “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. It just felt like an extremely lazy attempt to pander toward a young audience.

But what keeps Middle School from being an absolute disaster is its message. It lets you know that it’s okay to be who you are and you don’t have to change your personality to fit in or to please anybody. It’s a good message for kids to hear and I’m glad that the screenwriters are teaching it.

And also some of the performances throughout aren’t too bad either. Griffin Gluck is without a doubt the star of this movie and he delivers a good and level-headed performance as Rafe Khatchadorian. Lauren Graham is similarly good in the role of Julie, Rafe’s mother, who just wants him to be happy no matter what.

Rob Riggle and Andy Daly on the other hand, are honestly terrible. Their performances are wildly over-the-top goofy in every way you can imagine. As I mentioned earlier, they feel like the most cartoony villains, and while it may have been the intention, it doesn’t mean it translates well to the big screen. Overall, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life doesn’t really have too much to offer in terms of entertainment. Its great message is sadly buried underneath so much corniness and bad humor.

Overall Grade: C-

MPAA Rating: PG for rude humor throughout, language and thematic elements

Cast: Griffin Gluck, Lauren Graham, Rob Riggle, Thomas Barbusca, Isabela Moner, Andy Daly, Adam Pally, Retta, Jacob Hopkins, Alexa Nisenson, Efren Ramirez

Directed by: Steve Carr

Distributed by: Lionsgate

Release Date: October 7, 2016

Running Time: 92 minutes

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