Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life Parent Review
Played for comedy only, the script offers absolutely no reasonable suggestions for youth coping with issues like feelings of isolation, bullying, loss, divorce or blended families.
For some students, middle school may indeed be the worst years of their teen lives. But those difficult years won’t be improved by seeing Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life. The movie’s mantra is “rules aren’t for everyone”. It’s a silly slogan that the script justifies by pitting one boy against the most inept group of adult characters ever assembled in one zip code.
Rafe (Griffen Gluck), a creative, artsy student, has just transferred to his third school of the year. The reasons why aren’t addressed until late in the film. (And then the reveal feels both sappy and unrealistic.) His single, working mother Jules (Lauren Graham) sends him off to his first day of class with a hug and a stern reminder that things had better work.
Yet before he’s even inside the front doors, he runs into Principal Dwight (Andy Daly), a narcissistic educator who has penned an entire encyclopedia of rules for his students to follow. By the time Rafe makes his way to the remedial class with the rest of the “losers”, he finds himself sitting in front of the class bully. And things aren’t any better when school is out. His mother turns after-school childcare duties over to her neighbor Carl (Rob Riggle), a crass, abusive, full-of-himself loafer who berates Rafe and his sister Georgia (Alexa Nisenson) while trying to spark a relationship with their mom.
With no competent adults to turn to for help or advice, Rafe’s only option (in the movie world at least) is rebellion. And that he does with the help of his sidekick Leo (Thomas Barbusca). Together they embark on a campaign of rule breaking that involves vandalism, graffiti, breaking and entering, credit card theft and underage driving. While their antics are both illegal and dangerous, they are played for comedy in this story.
However for real teens dealing with complex challenges like bullying, death in the family, divorce or blended families, the script offers absolutely no reasonable suggestions for coping. Instead it is littered with crude terms and some profanities (including a sly referral to a sexual expletive), name-calling, a cast of stereotypical racial characters and at least a couple of agenda items.
Maybe most disappointing is the “I don’t fit in” message we repeatedly see in movies aimed at tweens and teens. No question, the middle school years can be tough as kids start to figure out life, friendships and their future. But I worry this constant media message of being an outsider can make youth feel more isolated and even intolerant of others. And that idea becomes more dangerous when adults are seen as the enemy and rebellion is the only way to fit in.Directed by Steve Carr. Starring Lauren Graham, Thomas Barbusca, Griffin Gluck. Running time: 92 minutes. Theatrical release October 7, 2016. Updated January 3, 2017
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life here.
Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life Parents Guide
What roles do various genders, age groups and ethnicities play in this movie? Do these casting choices support stereotypes? How would you mix these roles up? Would it change the message of this movie?
Many films marketed to young people depict teen characters that feel they don’t fit in. Do you notice anything in common with these portrayals? What types of people are rarely shown as not fitting in?
This movie depicts a young man who has gone through a major life crisis. Do you feel the characters surrounding him are acting in a way that will help him? Why is he rebelling against school rules? What would you do to help him if you were his friend?
The school rules in this movie are extreme. Are there regulations at your school that you feel are unfair? What are appropriate ways you can voice your concern? Also, how might you discuss these rules to better understand why they were created in the first place?