By Liz Lopez

Rating: B-

It has been a while since I have had a child in middle school, nor have I had a work related reason to be on a middle school campus, but I certainly do remember the atmosphere and the attitude of some of the students during my time on campus. Although I have not read the source material for the film, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, James Patterson and Chris Tebbets’s Middle School book, I am enjoyed the film. A combination of real characters and animation directed by Steve Carr (Paul Blart: Mall Cop) and written by Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer, and Kara Holden, I found the film to be entertaining in some scenes, but others are a bit predictable. What keeps the film going is the sudden blast of animated scenes popping on screen to keep the viewer engaged and not snooze off when the script wanders into the territory of “seen that before.” I do recommend the comedy film with drama for families, but at the same time, it does have a PG rating for some rude humor throughout, language and thematic elements, and some parents may not want their student to implement some of the activities the protagonist chooses to do. Rafe Khatchadorian (Griffin Gluck, TV’s “Private Practice”) is a very creative middle school student who is about to enter a new school mid –semester and apparently, this is not the first time the family has had to make changes in their life. On Day One, Rafe starts the day on the wrong foot outside the front door of the building when the principal, Principal Dwight (Andy Daly, Modern Family) calls him out because of his attire. The principal sites the rule and specific rule number from the “School Handbook,” and does so throughout the film to make anyone nauseous. It does not take long to take a strong dislike to this individual, nor his “Assistant Enforcer,” Vice Principal Stricker (Retta, Parks and Recreation).

Rafe tries to be on his best behavior for the sake of his single mom, Jules (Lauren Graham) and younger sister, Georgia (Alexa Nisenson, Constantine). He is bullied by a fellow student in his homeroom class with his cool teacher, Mr. Teller (Adam Pally), bombarded with handbook rules by the administration, and after the principal disposes of his notebook full of his artwork in an acid bucket, Rafe and fellow student Leo (Thomas Barbusca), take on the establishment, with a tiny bit of help at the end by the custodian, Gus (Efren Ramirez, Napoleon Dynamite), who has had it with the principal too.

Rafe’s history within the last two years forms part of the story, including changes in the family composition and the potential for a verbally abusive stepdad-to-be, Carl (Rob Riggle). There is one very sweet scene between Rafe and Georgia that will pull on your heartstrings. And I would be remiss to mention the cute and talented Isabella Moner (100 Things to Do Before High School) who stars as Jeanne, the AV club president and fundraiser who catches Rafe’s interest and loves her smile.

You just have to watch the 92 minute film to see how Rafe handles adventures and challenges, both in real life and in the animated sequences.

Source: CBS Films, Lionsgate

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