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Rafe Khatchadorian (Griffin Gluck) and his mom Jules (Lauren Graham) in Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life.Frank Masi

Probably the most damning critique you can give a family comedy is to say that you need to be a family to enjoy it. So, you need to be a family to enjoy Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life.

Based on the young readers' novel of the same name, the film is aimed at kids a little younger than the middle-school set, what with its tame comedy, stock characters and simple ideas.

Wimpy kids – most kids are wimpy; the ones who weren't grow up to be Donald Trump – will identify with Griffin Gluck as the protagonist Rafe Khatchadorian. He's a likeable boy who works out his issues by drawing in a notebook, and his frustrations and fantasies come to life in animated form on screen. On his first day at a new middle school, his rebellious streak is engaged by a one-dimensional tyrannical principal. With encouragement from a friend, he wages an implausible campaign of rule breaking and disruption.

Idea-wise, scholastic issues are raised: standardized testing, the disregard for children's artistic pursuits and the overall regimentation of school life. Ironically, Middle School's message is about encouraging kids and grown-ups to think outside the box and yet, the filmmakers themselves do precisely the opposite.

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