Like many, Lauren Graham hated middle school.
The Gilmore Girls actress remembers one time in eighth-grade band putting on a concert. "All the girls had to wear dresses, but I didn't own a dress or have girl shoes. I was a real tomboy, so I just felt awkward," says Graham, 48, who co-stars in next year's Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life. "They were literally the worst years of my life, so I was in from the title."
In junior high, "everything is the worst and the best," says Worst author James Patterson, best known for his Michael Bennett and Alex Cross thrillers. "It's memorable because everything is sort of operatic. It's larger than life."
Based on the first book in Patterson's best-selling Middle School series, the movie follows Rafe Khatchadorian (Griffin Gluck) as he starts his first year of junior high with one mission: to break every rule in the school's stringent Code of Conduct. The film is set to hit theaters in October.
Rafe is "a really bright kid," Patterson, 68, says. "He's a great artist, illustrator and animator, but there's so little or no art in a lot of schools these days, so he doesn't have a way to express himself and he's bored by the other subjects. Because this is a school with hundreds of rules and the principal is totally over-the-top in (enforcing them), Rafe decides that the only way he can keep is sanity is by breaking all the rules."
Patterson describes the family comedy's tone as Home Alone meets Ferris Bueller's Day Off meets Pixar, with about 20-30 minutes of animation interspersed. "It's all totally relevant to the story line because it's coming out of Rafe's head and in the style that he draws," Patterson says.
Gluck, 15, was chosen by director Steve Carr and Patterson, who also executive produces. Although Gluck has appeared in since-canceled TV shows About a Boy and Red Band Society, "this is just going to be one of those movies where you say, 'Oh, that's the first time I saw Griffin. Remember he was in that Middle School movie?' " Patterson says. "This will be the start for him, or at least a bigger start than he's had so far, anyway."
Andy Daly (Comedy Central's Review) plays the loathsome Principal Dwight, while Rob Riggle (FX's The League) appears as the brutish boyfriend of Rafe's mom, Jules (Graham). "They're the bad guys," Patterson says. "But in a movie like this, it's really important that they be funny. You get the point that there are bullies in the world and schoolmasters who can take advantage a little bit, but you're laughing at it."
A single mom pulling double shifts at a diner, Jules is "enjoying having some attention and feels relieved to have someone help her" with Rafe and his little sister, Georgia (Alexa Nisenson), Graham says. "She's going through a tough time and maybe choosing not to see all the signs that are there because it's fun to have a date."
In her two-decade career, Graham is most beloved for playing TV moms Sarah Braverman on NBC's Parenthood and Lorelai Gilmore on The WB's Gilmore Girls (which may be revived on Netflix, Graham teases, although she will not confirm). So who's the best parent of the three?
"If I ever say anything besides Lorelai, there's a contract out on my life," Graham laughs. "I'm at this point as an actor where there's a meld of what people think of me for, so there's kind of a sisterhood of all these moms who are struggling to do a good job and try to have a sense of humor along the way. Jules is doing a very good job."
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