Aptly for a movie about an aspiring artist entering the hormonal halls of adolescence, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life is a splatter-shot palette of moods and attitudes. It goes surrealistic and realistic with grief, lets enjoyably loose with some outbreaks of animation, gets cheekily rebellious and satirical about the education system, and throws in a ridiculous boor of a boyfriend for Mom for bogus marks.
Rafe Khatchadorian (Griffin Gluck), sketchbook in hand, starts classes at Hills Village Middle School only to discover that Principal Dwight (Andy Daly), armed with a book of Nos and Don’ts, is one repressive school-ruler. With best friend Leo (Thomas Barbusca), Rafe slyly, night after night, leading up to the big day of the Baseline Assessment of Academic Readiness (BLAAR) test, flouts the rules: one morning sees sticky-notes covering the principal’s office, another morning sees the trophy case filled with water and fish, etc.
There’s some strong mockery of standardized-testing, some fun moments when Rafe’s inked-out drawings come alive, and the grief subplot—Rafe’s younger brother died of cancer—comes with a sharp little twist of the pen-knife. But most characters in Rafe’s real world seem more caricatured than his drawings. Principal and vice-principal are foolish, while Rafe’s homeroom teacher is super-cool (NAFTA, using Drake as an example!). Younger sister Georgia’s so precocious that, in one speech, she acts at least two decades older, while the movie keeps thinking it’s funny to plop her behind the wheel of a car. And Rafe’s kind mother (Lauren Graham) gets saddled with a moron who cares more about his car and drools over a waitress while out with the kids.
Then there’s the casual sexualizing of Rafe’s crush, Jeanne—especially when the camera eyes her dancing in slo-mo after the fire sprinklers have been set off (another of Rafe’s pranks). Ah, yes, the wet-haired, wet-clothed, lip-glossed object of desire on the move just for her guy and us. So icky to see Hollywood’s grown down since Bo Derek’s beach-run in 10 and Phoebe Cates coming out of the pool in Fast Times in Ridgemont High.
Directed by Steve Carr