Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

Title: Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: 
Principal Skinner: The only monster on this bus is a lack of proper respect for the rules.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Hell is for children, and systemic aggravation is for pre-adolescents.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two Roy Stalins out of five.

Tagline: "Rules aren't for everyone."

Better Tagline: "Neither are commonsense security measures."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Hills Village Middle School is the port of last resort for young Rafe Khatchadorian (Griffin Gluck), bounced from other schools for reasons unknown (all he really wants to do is draw in his notebook, man). Adding to his misery is HVMS's hard-ass Principal Dwight (Andy Daly), who runs the school according to an extensive list of repressive rules. But when Dwight destroys his beloved notebook, Rafe and his friend Leo (Thomas Barbusca) embark on an elaborate campaign to break every one of them. 

"Critical" Analysis:
 As cathartic teen revenge fantasies go, MS:TWYOML isn't horrible. There are the expected messages about being "true to yourself" and questioning authority, both of which are couched in the comfortable black and white of early adolescence. Gluck is unassuming in a Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 10 Things I Hate About You kind of way (also keep an eye on young Alexa Nisenson, as Rafe's little sister Georgia), and there's actually a bit of an emotional curveball that adds some heft to an otherwise gauzy endeavor. 

At the same time, the pacing is way off, and there are lengthy pauses after some of the jokes, as if director Steve Carr wanted to leave no doubt about where we're supposed to laugh (or mistakenly anticipating the addition of a laugh track). It's also incongruously crude in spots, which in and of itself isn't troubling, but the "almost" f-bombs and toilet jokes are spaced haphazardly enough that they stand out in the otherwise innocuous film like, well, turds in a punch bowl.

None of this should be too surprising, coming as it does from the director of Daddy Day Care and Paul Blart: Mall Cop. And while it isn't horrible, Middle Schoolexpialidocious isn't especially good, either. Carr does a poor job integrating Rafe's illustrations into the larger story (see Better Off Dead for a more accomplished example). It's also always a little depressing to see otherwise gifted comic actors relegated to side roles like The Hand-Wringing Mom (Lauren Graham as Mrs. Khatchadorian) or The Surprisingly Hip Teacher (Adam Pally as Mr. Teller). 

Then again, Rob Riggle is dead-on as Mrs. Khatchadorian's unctuous suitor, though that might depend on your opinion of BMW drivers.

And admittedly, there are some admirable (if obvious) stances taken. Principal Dwight's entire career is staked on a standardized test (the B.L.A.A.R.), which is widely lambasted by everyone who isn't Principal Dwight. There are also some not-so-subtle digs at climate change deniers and those in favor of cutting arts funding to public schools. 

But this all leads to a larger question; namely, are these movies in some way damaging? Is it worse to prepare our nation's youth for a life of conformity and disappointment early on, or to tease them with the idea that they can actually rebel against the oppressive figures they'll meet later in life (especially when HVMS is apparently the only school in America without CCTV or security guards)? What's the statute of limitations on youthful optimism? How many poor saps joined the military thinking it would be like Beetle Bailey only to discover, to their horror, it was more like Full Metal Jacket?

Ask A Seven-Year-Old: 
Me: What part did you like the best?
7YO: When they wiped the dog's butt.
Me: Of course.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar