I saw previews for this live action movie several times this past summer. Every time, my grandchildren Joey, Oliver and Aubrey piped up that they wanted to see Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life. The movie opened over the weekend and an opportunity presented itself this afternoon to take those three to see an after school matinee. With stormy weather rolling through the area and unrelenting rain, a movie sounded perfect.
Middle School stars Griffin Gluck, Alexa Nisenson, Thomas Barbusca, Isabela Moner, Adam Pally, Retta, Andrew Daly, Rob Riggle and Lauren Graham. The comedy adventure, based on the book with the same title by James Patterson, was directed by Steve Carr. The film carries a PG rating, for some crude humor, and has a run time of 1 hour and 38 minutes.
It’s the first day of school for middle schooler Rafe (Gluck) and his little sister Georgia (Nisenson). Along with the usual first day jitters, Rafe and his friend Leo (Barbusca) know with grim certainty that this school they are transferring into is their last chance to shape up before being sent to a military-type boarding school.
Placed in a class with other kids who are struggling, Rafe meets his unconventional home room teacher, Mr. Teller (Pally), and appreciates his humor and relaxed teaching stule. He also has uncomfortable encounters almost immediately with the rigid, rule oriented Principal Dwight (Daly) and his dutiful enforcer, Vice Principal Stricker (Retta).
Rafe uses art as a way of processing his world and the pain and confusion often found there. He carries a notebook with him everywhere, sketching monsters and heroes and life situations. When a comical and unflattering drawing ends up in Principal Dwight’s hand, Rafe is labeled a rule breaker. His notebook with all of his drawings is purposefully destroyed by the principal, in a bucket of acid.
That callous act begins a war between Rafe and the rule bound authoritarians in the school. With the help of Leo, Georgia and a new friend, Jeanne (Moner), Rafe launches an anti-rule campaign using the motto Rules Aren’t For Everyone. His intention at school is to break every rule, without revealing that he is the rule breaker. At home, he sizes up his mother’s (Graham) new self centered boyfriend (Riggle).
Life has been tough for Rafe the last 24 months…and yet attending this new middle school might be ushering in the worst years of his life.
This was a fun movie, with an undercurrent of sadness, which I didn’t expect. The previews highlighted the humor in the film. What wasn’t revealed until today was that Rafe, a very creative boy, is troubled by a tragedy in his family. He works through his feelings and pain by drawing.
Rafe’s sketches come to animated life during scenes that are interwoven with the live action, adding an interesting perspective from the main character’s bright, artistic mind.
While Joey, Oliver and Aubrey laughed at the pranks Rafe and friends pull, to make a point that rules can go too far, I was curious about their take on elementary and middle school in general. I thought a movie was the perfect rainy day activity, but apparently we were the only ones who did, at least in regard to this particular movie. We had the entite theater to ourselves. We sat in the top row of seats and discussed the story as it unfolded.
My heart was drawn toward Rafe. The rules, 138 of them, were exaggerated (No laughing, anywhere. Silence in the hallways.) and yet I am a frequest visitor to the schools of my grandchildren. The rules depicted in the movie aren’t so far from the reality that I have observed. I get that there has to be order and management. I also long to see more creativity allowed, less labeling and bullying of students who are different, and more encouragement.
The movie, while playful at times, brings up deeper truths for adults to ponder such as the vital role exceptional teachers play in the lives of kids, the power of creativity, the stymying effect of too many rules and the importance of recognizing that every child has gifts to offer. Every…child.
My three grandkids liked the movie and we discussed it while at the theater and during the car ride home. Joey, who is in middle school this year, and sketches beautifully, shared his thoughts on rules…there are too many of them…and promptly began to draw in the car. Oliver and Aubrey agreed that there seems to be many rules in school.
There was an unexpected plot twist toward the end of the movie, that none of us saw coming. The kids reacted with surprise and questions. I was surprised as well and I’ll now have to view this film again.
During the last 15 minutes of the movie, I turned to the kids, who had been caught up in the story, and told them that for the remainder of the film, they could go sit anywhere they chose in the darkened theater. It was, after all, an empty theater and we were watching a movie about breaking free of constraints.
I didn’t have to repeat myself. Off they dashed, delighted. I expected them to scatter, sitting apart from each other. Instead, the three sat together on the front row, their heads tilted back to take in the huge movie screen. I watched them, as they watched the conclusion of the movie.
Little rule breakers. I don’t want them to be defiant. I want them to be curious. And ask questions if they need to be asked. Most of all, I want them to grow up engaging their creativity and unafraid to be who they are. I’ll be a rule breaker with them.