By Grace Gardener
I’m pretty sure your family has a good reason to homeschool. For my parents, it was that everyone in schools has to act and think the same. Children who are ahead are pushed down below their level and children who are behind are thrust forward when they are not ready for it. School has many other such shortcomings. Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life seems a silly movie at first, but soon makes very good points about America’s education system.
When Rafe Katchadorian, 12 years old, arrives at the last school that will take him, he bumps into principal Dwight and his book of rules. Rafe soon learns that fun is not allowed at this new school. After the principal destroys his sketchbook, Rafe and his friend Leo decide to trash the principal’s book. In other words, they set out to break every single rule in the school. A little bit of suspension of disbelief is necessary for some of the pranks, but they are funny. But that’s not the only thing going on: back at home, Rafe and his younger sister Georgia have to deal with his mother’s abusive boyfriend and the threat of Rafe being sent away to a military school.
The main plot is about Rafe’s struggles with the rigid rules and the principal’s obsession with the B.L.A.A.R (Baseline Assessment of Academic Readiness). In other words, he cares a whole lot more about test results than the actual wellbeing of his pupils. Another main plot point is Rafe and his sister Georgie dealing with problems at home and learning to trust and stand by each other.
The story is told chronologically, but we do hear things that happened earlier by characters talking about it. Thankfully, it does always feel as if they are having a decent conversation and aren’t just talking to move the plot along.
One part of the plot I didn’t like was the whole romance thing between Rafe and his schoolmate Jeanne. It’s just so useless, unrealistic and annoying. Actually emotional scenes get cut short because of Jeanne running in. There’s just something so awkward about watching two 12-year-olds kiss under the starry sky as if they won’t actually break up in two weeks.
Rafe Katchadorian and his friend Leo are two fun-loving boys who don’t fit into the middle school’s mold. Rafe is artistic and draws to escape from the real world. The movie regularly switches to him seeing things as if they are cartoons. Where Rafe would rather lay low, Leo wants to take action. He is the one who tells Rafe how to make things exiting and how to go through with his plans.
Georgia, Rafe’s younger sister, seems like just an annoying little girl at first. This changes as Carl, the children’s stepfather, becomes more aggressive and threatening. Alexa Nisenson, the actress playing Georgia, is very talented and her performance was surprisingly strong.
Jules is Rafe’s mother. She is a chef trying to think outside the box and have a life while taking care of two children. To her, Carl is a knight in shining armour who offers to help her out. In reality, he’s a rude, insensitive loser who is never there for Jules when she needs him. Although he’s annoying, he’s pretty funny sometimes.
Mr. Tiller is Rafe’s teacher. The movie tried very hard to make him a “cool, young teacher”. Although he is supportive of Rafe and a great teacher, he is a bit iffy, giving this relationship advice to a young boy: “Sometimes you gotta do you. I learned that from my ex-wife.” Shortly after, he asks Rafe what he’s doing “lumped in with all these other kids”. As a rule, telling children they’re better than others is a Very Bad Idea.
Principal Dwight only cares about the rules and getting good test scores. He is a very exaggerated example of “teach to the test, not to the child”, as vice principal Ida Stricker puts it.
Jeanne Galletta is… interesting. She is into saving polar bears and “taking on the establishment”. She quotes people like Gandhi, actually says things like “express ourselves as human beings and not just a bunch of robots” out loud and is overwhelmingly emotionally attached to her ideals.
Warnings and Messages
This is a movie derived from a Diary of a Wimpy Kid-like book, so… get ready for lots of toilet humour and even a boob joke. Also, there is quite a bit of foul language. No s- or f-words, although they are implied 3 times. One of the times is pretty funny, but the others are just tasteless and annoying. Another thing that people could have issues with is Carl being very over-the-top in the romance scenes.
The most important message of the movie is straight-up spelled out for us by Mr. Tiller: “If we keep cramming standard tests down our kids’ throats, all we’re gonna get is a bunch of standard kids.” Schools should be teaching for children and future, not tests. Another important message was that you shouldn’t stifle fun. It’s supposed to be present in your life.
Another important idea was that you need to pay attention to other people and their feelings and not just focus on yourself. Mr. Dwight is so focused on having the best school that he doesn’t notice when his students are hurting. Carl just asks Rafe and Georgia’s mother to marry him without asking Rafe and Georgia about it first. And because he is so focused on himself, he never notices that he makes Jules feel very uncomfortable.
Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life is a very good movie that deals with very real problems. It does have some bad language and tasteless jokes, but that’s not very strange for a movie about a middle school boy. The characters felt real and the acting was great. It is funny and sweet to both adults and children, and has surprisingly emotional moments you wouldn’t expect from a movie like this.