Jessica Darling’s IT List (2016): Junior High Challenge (Review) [Update]

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[Update] It was helpfully pointed out that this review seemed to be missing a paragraph or two in regards to the cast. The omission was one of poor editing and has now been rectified. Mike’s Film Talk apologizes for any upset this may have caused. The problem has now been rectified. Thank you.

Based on Megan McCafferty‘s book, part of a series, Jessica Darling’s IT List  follows the journey of our heroine as she begins junior high school, aka middle school, and all the missteps along the way.  Jessica is a young lady who does not get overly excited about dating, finding the right friends or wearing fashionable clothes. Her new school is a huge challenge.

The new seventh grader is more concerned about being Jessica. Her older sister Bethany (Blair Fowler) comes home from college to give her little sister some tips about what not to do in junior high.  Jessica (Chloe East) tries the IT list and things do not go smoothly.

Along the way she makes new friends and finds middle school a challenge. All the rules have changed and she has problems.  Anyone who has changed schools as they have moved up  the academic ladder will recognize  the issues that Jessica faces.

From being put in the wrong class (woodwork) to the challenges of finding new friends while trying to hold on to old ones, the move to a new school can be  minefield.

Directed by Ali Sher (her first feature length film) from a screenplay written by Julie Sherman Wolfe this tween comedy  hits all the right notes. With a superb supporting cast the film moves smoothly from one disaster to another. 

Abraham Benrubi plays Mr. Pudel the bigger than life woodwork teacher and Myrna Velasco is Miss Garcia the teacher who manages the cheerleaders in the school. Both these actors bring much to their roles and Velasco is funny as the overly enthusiastic faculty member. 

Chloe East does an excellent job as the “fish out of water” girl who tries to take her sister’s advice. Jacob Melton is spot on as Aleck/Marcus and all the young cast do a fine job telling the story. 

Emma Rayne Lyle does a bang up job as Bridget, Jessica’s “Bestie,” who also finds the move to middle school difficult.  From being upstaged by the school mascot “stupid chicken,” to having her new boyfriend move in on her best friend, Bridget has her own issues. 

The interaction between East and Lyle works very well. The two have a splendid chemistry together. East also is a perfect fit with Melton  and these young actors all  sold that awkward feeling between existing and potential when something is amiss.

There are moments at the start of the film where it feels like all these tweens are focussing on the wrong things. However the message at the end of the movie is a reassuring one.

The feel of Jessica Darling’s IT List is reminiscent of old time live action Disney.  For those who grew up on The Wonderful World of Disney and those Annette Funicello serials on Sunday evenings, or even their older films like the original The Parent Trap, will notice a similarity.

(It also has a touch of Nickelodeon mixed in there.)

Although in this film the Jessica sorts her problems out with a minimum of help from the adults.  They are there to help when needed,  for instance Mrs. Darling (Jane Sibbett) comes to Jessica’s aid when there is a wardrobe problem and the school nurse helps out as well. 

This is a comedy though so any problems are quite light hearted and not life threatening.  In terms of violence, bad language and sexual situations; there are none. Jessica Darling’s IT List is a family film and it is one that the entire clan can sit down and watch together. Even grandma can see this one and not be offended.

Younger kids will like the movie as it shows the mysteries of junior high school (middle school) and the adults will get the relevance of how the microcosm of school never really changes.

This is a 4 star film where  the storyline is funny and not too mature for the age group of the characters.  Jessica Darling’s IT List premiered on 20 June and is available on  VoD. Check this one out, it is an enjoyable romp through the seventh grade that will bring back memories for some.  For others  it is just a good giggle at the journey of our heroine.

Keep an eye out for the Mighty Eagle…

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