Blu-ray Review: Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

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Though Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, based on the James Patterson novel of the same name, is not an instant adolescent-angst classic, it should hold the attention of its target demographic. But at its core is an idea so beautifully poignant, it's too bad director Steve Carr couldn't pull all it all together more coherently. Now available on Blu-ray (also DVD and Digital HD), Middle School is a pleasant hodgepodge that never flies as high as it could have. 
middle school 2.jpg The aforementioned beautiful idea involves the grieving process as experienced by Rafe Khatchadorian (Griffin Gluck of Why Him?). Burgeoning cartoonist Rafe lost his brother, with whom he was extremely close, to cancer some years ago. As a result, he's had difficulty fitting in. He's new to Hills Village Middle School, having transferred mid-year after being expelled from his previous one. Immediately bristling at the largely arbitrary rule book strictly adhered to by Principal Dwight (Andy Daly), Rafe resolves to covertly raise hell for the rest of the school year. With game assistance from his only friend, Leo (Thomas Barbusca), Rafe breaks every rule in Dwight's book. 
middle school 1.jpg Middle School mixes together the light tone of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Ferris Bueller's Day Off (not all that much, though the filmmakers cite it as an influence), and Disney's Lizzie McGuire. But it's laced with the more serious element of Rafe's unresolved grief over his brother's passing. Gluck is agreeable enough, but he's saddled with a role that doesn't offer much depth. Director Carr flirts with the conceit of showing us Rafe's world from the perspective of his illustrations. But the animated bits aren't well integrated, though there's a relatively effective cathartic pay-off in the film's climax. The mix of realistic performances (including Lauren Graham as Rafe's mom Jules) with comically broad ones (Daly's Principal Dwight, as well as Rob Riggle as Jules' boyfriend Carl) does the film's serious side no favors. 

middle school 3.jpg If only the filmmakers had definitively chosen how to best portray Rafe's life. At times it seems we're seeing things through his wildly imaginative, exaggerated perspective. How else to explain what Jules, a well-grounded mother to Rafe and his sister Georgia (Alexa Nisenson), even sees in the boorish Carl? Other plot threads are treated with more run of the mill normalcy, such as Rafe's flirtatious relationship with fellow student Jeanne (Isabela Moner). Other stuff borders on nonsensical (how exactly is Rafe getting into the school after-hours in order to execute his pranks?). The tonal inconsistency is a pretty significant flaw, but middle school-aged viewers should find enough amusement to stay interested for 90 minutes. Overall, credit Middle School with making an effort to go beyond the silliness and reach for something more resonant. 

Lionsgate's Blu-ray offers a selection of special features that includes four short 'behind the scenes' featurettes, a gag reel, and several deleted scenes.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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