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Movie review: 'Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life,' quirky book-based comedy about a rebellious tween

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Parents need to know that "Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life" is a comedy based on the best-selling book by James Patterson. The story revolves around a rebellious middle schooler who breaks lots of school rules. Little kids might be upset by that, but tweens and young teens will realize that he's doing it for a valid reason: questioning rules just for the sake of having rules. While there's no violence, several pratfalls are played for laughs, and there are sad discussions about a dead family member. Expect a bunch of insults and almost-swear words like "what the ...," "what rhymes with suck," and "frickin'," as well as "pissed off," "buttwipe," "doofus," "stupid," "crap," and more. There's also some light romance (including kissing and reference to a "hot" stepmom). But the movie also encourages honesty and communication between families and siblings and the importance of teachers who focus on students rather than test scores.

WHAT'S THE STORY?

"Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life" centers on Rafe Katchadorian (Griffin Gluck), who has just started at yet another new middle school after being kicked out of several others. Rafe's only real friend is Leo (Thomas Barbusca), a former BFF who also ends up at his new school. It's led by Principal Dwight (Andrew Daly), who gives every student a handbook filled with arbitrary rules. Rafe finds solace in his beloved journal, where he keeps his doodles, drawings, and thoughts, but it gets confiscated and destroyed (in a bucket of acid!). The next day, Rafe and Leo create a Rules Aren't for Everyone mission to publicly "shred" the school's rules, one by one. Meanwhile, Rafe and his plucky younger sister, Georgia (Alexa Nisenson), must deal with their single mom's (Lauren Graham) two-faced boyfriend, Carl (Rob Riggle).

IS IT ANY GOOD?

This entertaining adaptation captures the spirit of the book's quirky main character's quest to break ridiculous rules and carry on after personal tragedy. Gluck's Rafe is as "adorkable" in the movie as he is in the book, with a whip-smart imagination and vivid drawings that come to life around him. The beauty of the title, "Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life," is that most adults and even some younger viewers can relate to the daily challenges of middle school: indifferent administrators, bullies, social hierarchies, and rules - some that make sense and others that seem silly and/or pointless. Rafe and Leo demonstrate a strong friendship as they try to show their classmates how unnecessary most of the rules are to their education.

Daly is ideal as the principal who loves his rules and his No. 1 certificates for being first in the state's achievement tests (hilariously called the B.L.A.A.R). Parks and Recreation vet Retta co-stars as his devoted assistant principal, who - like her beloved boss - believes you should "teach to the test, not the students." (Um, nope.) Riggle makes the most out of playing Carl, Rafe's soon-to-be stepdad, who pretends he cares about the kids in front of their mom but really wants them out of the way. The light romance and rebellion make this a better fit for tweens and actual middle schoolers rather than really young kids, as does a poignant plot point that explains a lot of Rafe's behavior.

RATING AND CONTENT

Recommended for ages 9 and older

Quality: 3 out of 5

Positive messages: 3 out of 5

Positive role models: 3 out of 5

Violence: 2 out of 5

Sex: 1 out of 5

Language: 2 out of 5

Drinking, drugs, and smoking: 1 out of 5

Consumerism: 3 out of 5 (Are products/advertisements embedded? Is the title part of a broader marketing initiative/empire? Is the intent to sell things to kids?)

MOVIE DETAILS

Theatrical release date: October 7, 2016

Director: Steve Carr

Studios: CBS Films, Lionsgate

Genre: Family and Kids

Run time: 92 minutes

MPAA rating: PG

Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org. (c)2016 Common Sense Media Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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