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Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (2016)

Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/3/2017

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/4/2017

I often find myself discussing how there is no such thing as normal. We try to define "normal" by compare ourselves to those around us. We all grow up with our own experiences, so what may seem "normal" to us, may seem wildly radical to others. An idea of "normal" can also be gleaned from entertainment. Do the lives of people portrayed in movies or television shows look anything like my existence? I know one thing for sure -- my time in middle and high school was apparently incredibly unusual, because I rarely seen anything on-screen which reflects my academic experience. Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life is yet another movie which apparently takes place on another planet, as it comes across as highly unrealistic.

As Middle School opens, we are introduced to Rafe (Griffin Gluck), a seemingly amiable adolescent. And yet, we learn that Rafe has been kicked out of many schools and he's about to begin his first day at a school which could be his last chance, much to the chagrin of his mother, Jules (Lauren Graham). When Rafe arrives at the school, he immediately runs afoul of Principal Dwight (Andy Daly), who announces that the school has a long list of very specific rules. On the positive side, Rafe is surprised to see that his best friend, Leo (Thomas Barbusca), is also at the school. When Principal Dwight confiscates and destroys Rafe's beloved sketchbook, he, with Leo's encouragement, decides that he will break all of the school's rules. Thus begins a campaign of pranks, as Rafe sets out to break Principal Dwight, all the while becoming a folk hero.

There is no other way to say this: Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life is a weird movie. The film is based on a book series by prolific writer (and ghost writer) James Patterson (who was also responsible for the book behind Maximum Ride). It's my understanding that the book series is aimed at adolescents, but I'm not sure how appropriate this material would be for young teens. While this movie is a fantasy (more on that in a moment), Rafe really comes across as a terrorist. A goal of breaking every rule and enraging the principal is not something which should be encouraged or emulated, even in a joking manner. This isn't Animal House after all -- this is supposed to be a family film. While watching the movie, I said, "At whom is this movie aimed?" more than one time.

Then we have the issues with the story and the overall vibe of the movie. The movie certainly feels like a ripoff of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, from the middle-school setting to the characters to the use of illustrations as a way to propel the story. (Actually, the use of animation (which looks like Brad Bird's style) feels like something from Better Off Dead or One Crazy Summer.) The story is far too vague at times. We learn at the outset that Rafe has been expelled from other schools. While we are told the origin of his obstinate behavior, why he was kicked out of these schools is never divulged. The movie flows into the realm of improbable with Rafe and Leo's pranks. Who bankrolled these things? Is Rafe an engineer? I appreciate the fact that this is not a documentary, but the sophistication of the projects simply pulled me out of the movie. (We learn in the extra features that one of the pranks which was supposed to be done overnight actually took three weeks to do in real life.)

And then we have the overall tone of the movie. As noted above, this is a movie which presents itself as pedestrian, unoriginal, inappropriate, and out of reach. And then we have the twist. Yes, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life has a huge twist at the outset of the third act. I know that I didn't see it coming, and I don't think most will either. Why? Because it's so incredibly serious and does not fit in with the rest of the film at all. It completely takes the wind out of a movie which hasn't built up that much steam to begin with, and will make the viewer unsure about how to feel about the movie.

You certainly can't say that Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life is a mundane movie. There's a lot happening here, and most of it isn't very good. The tone is all over the place, the movie can't decide how grounded in reality that it wants to be, and you'll feel that you've seen most of it before. Andy Daly and Adam Pally have a few good lines here, but the majority of the film feels incredibly misguided. I'm not even sure if middle schoolers will enjoy this, as it probably won't make a connection with them.

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life doesn't explain where you can buy an eel on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good (as they are bold and realistic) and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good -- the image is never notably soft -- and the depth is acceptable. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The popular music used in the film sounds very good, as it fills the rear speakers and provides notable subwoofer action. We also get good stereo and surround sound effects during the busy hallway scenes, with some sounds highlighting audio coming from off screen.

The Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life Blu-ray Disc contains a number of extras. "That Middle School Life" (11 minutes) contains a huge spoiler, so don't watch it first. The piece contains comments from the cast and creative team, as well as from James Patterson, as it profiles each of the main characters. This allows the actors to talk about who they are playing. "Middle School = The Worst/Making Movies = The Best" (5 minutes) allows everyone to talk about the casual atmosphere on the set, and the adults talk about the fun involved in working with the kids. The cast members describe different types of wedgies in "The Wedgie Wheel" (3 minutes). "YOLO: Behind Operation Rafe" (7 minutes) offers a closer look at the pranks and how they were done. We get a 5-minute GAG REEL. The Disc contains four DELETED SCENES which run about 3 minutes. There are three new scenes here and one animated moment which was meant to accent a scene which made it into the finished film.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long