Steve Carr, known for films like Dr. Doolittle 2 and Daddy Day Care, was ready to take a break from family films — and then he read the script for Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life. Based on James Patterson’s 2011 best-selling novel of the same name, the movie is about a boy named Rafe who sets out to break all his principal’s many rules after said principal destroys his beloved sketchbook.
“This book came along and I found it’s a better version of the movies that I’ve been making,” he says. “Finding my way back from where I was trying to get away from was a big takeaway of making this movie for me.”
It helped that he had a personal connection to the story, too: “I literally am Rafe,” he says before revealing that, like the movie’s protagonist (played by Griffin Gluck), he spent his youth doodling in sketchbooks. “I express myself through my art. My sketchbook became everything to me. I always felt a little bit on the outside.”
That feeling of always being “a little bit on the outside” inspires Carr to make movies about more unusual, less popular characters. “One of the important things to look at is kids who aren’t cheerleaders or aren’t the student-body presidents,” he says. “In Daddy Day Care, one of the kids would only communicate in Klingon. I get that kind of a kid.”
Although Middle School is full of young actors playing wacky preteens, the movie also features a cast of well-liked grownups like Lauren Graham, Rob Riggle, Adam Pally, and Retta that Carr “cherry-picked” himself. But Andy Daly takes on perhaps the biggest (adult) role: The Review star plays Rafe’s nemesis, the high school principal obsessed with his own strict book of rules.
Carr describes the relationship between the principal and Rafe as “a classic Ferris Bueller kind of relationship,” but maintains that this movie isn’t a replica of the 1986 comedy. “I’m not interested in making Ferris Bueller 2. I wanted to make a movie that was special to me and had heart in a way that Ferris Bueller really didn’t,” he says. “There’s a lot of stuff for a lot of people in it.”
See the exclusive trailer and poster above. Middle School arrives in theaters Oct. 7.