A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life is a comedy based on the best-selling book by James Patterson. The story revolves around a rebellious middle schooler who breaks lots of school rules. Little kids might be upset by that, but tweens and young teens will realize that he's doing it for a valid reason: questioning rules just for the sake of having rules. While there's no violence, several pratfalls are played for laughs, and there are sad discussions about a dead family member. Expect a bunch of insults and almost-swear words like "what the...," "what rhymes with suck," and "frickin'," as well as "pissed off," "buttwipe," "doofus," "stupid," "crap," and more. There's also some light romance (including kissing and reference to a "hot" stepmom). But the movie also encourages honesty and communication between families and siblings and the importance of teachers who focus on students rather than test scores.
Surprisingly cute movie, but caution for families who have experienced loss of sibling/child or cancer patients
What's the story?
MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE is based on the book by best-selling author and publisher James Patterson. It centers on Rafe Katchadorian (Griffin Gluck), who has just started at yet another new middle school after being kicked out of several others. Rafe's only real friend is Leo (Thomas Barbusca), a former BFF who also ends up at his new school. It's led by Principal Dwight (Andrew Daly), who gives every student a handbook filled with arbitrary rules. Rafe finds solace in his beloved journal, where he keeps his doodles, drawings, and thoughts, but it gets confiscated and destroyed (in a bucket of acid!). The next day, Rafe and Leo create a Rules Aren't for Everyone mission to publicly "shred" the school's rules, one by one. Meanwhile, Rafe and his plucky younger sister, Georgia (Alexa Nisenson), must deal with their single mom's (Lauren Graham) two-faced boyfriend, Carl (Rob Riggle).
Is it any good?
This entertaining adaptation captures the spirit of the book's quirky main character's quest to break ridiculous rules and carry on after personal tragedy. Gluck's Rafe is as "adorkable" in the movie as he is in the book, with a whip-smart imagination and vivid drawings that come to life around him. The beauty of the title, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, is that most adults and even some younger viewers can relate to the daily challenges of middle school: indifferent administrators, bullies, social hierarchies, and rules -- some that make sense and others that seem silly and/or pointless. Rafe and Leo demonstrate a strong friendship as they try to show their classmates how unnecessary most of the rules are to their education.
Daly is ideal as the principal who loves his rules and his No. 1 certificates for being first in the state's achievement tests (hilariously called the B.L.A.A.R). Parks and Recreation vet Retta co-stars as his devoted assistant principal, who -- like her beloved boss -- believes you should "teach to the test, not the students." (Um, nope.) Riggle makes the most out of playing Carl, Rafe's soon-to-be stepdad, who pretends he cares about the kids in front of their mom but really wants them out of the way. The light romance and rebellion make this a better fit for tweens and actual middle schoolers rather than really young kids, as does a poignant plot point that explains a lot of Rafe's behavior.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the idea of breaking rules, as addressed in Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life. When is it OK to break rules? When isn't it? How can you tell the difference? What would you have done in Rafe's place?
What does the movie say about the importance of sibling relationships? How do the characters demonstrate communication?
Do you agree with the movie's position on teaching students vs. teaching for test scores? Which side do your teachers/school fall closer toward? How does that affect you?
If you've read the book -- how does the movie compare? Do you think the illustrated parts were well depicted in the movie?
- In theaters: October 7, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: January 3, 2017
- Cast: Lauren Graham, Andrew Daly, Griffin Gluck
- Director: Steve Carr
- Studios: CBS Films, Lionsgate
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Book characters, Friendship
- Run time: 92 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: rude humor throughout, language and thematic elements
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.