How to Eat Fried Worms (2006)

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Review #229 of 365
Film: How to Eat Fried Worms (2006) [PG] 96 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $8.50
Where Viewed: Century 16 Belmar, Lakewood, CO
When 1st Seen: 28 August 2006
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Soundtrack: order the CD below
Audiobook: Down load the unabridged audio book now from Thomas Rockwell - How to Eat Fried Worms (Unabridged)
Review Dedicated to: Ben U. of Marshfield, WI

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
Some people have described the book How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell as a beloved children's story. Many kids read it in middle school. I remember reading it when I was in middle school, back when it was, I'm a little sorry to have to admit, a relatively new book. In any case, I did not remember much if anything about the story—like I said, it was a long time ago. I do remember it being really cool and gross. Middle school-aged boys tend to love gross stuff for some reason. Or, maybe they don't actually love gross stuff, they love imagining and talking about gross stuff. As it turned out for me, I have to admit waiting until my dinner had settled prior to seeing this live action theatrical release of the film, that I think the latter is probably more true for I certainly remember loving the book and imaging how gross eating the worms would be versus seeing the horribly disgusting, sick, and gross ways the kids prepare the worms for young Billy Forrester to eat in the film. In fact, I would recommend not getting food to eat during the movie if you have a particularly weak stomach as you may find yourself using your popcorn bag as a 'barf bag' instead. I have to think that some of the ways used in the film are not in the book—like exploding one worm in the microwave oven. That's just not a thing kids would have done in 1973 when the book was published as microwave ovens were not in common use until, I'm guessing, the very, very late 1970s early 1980s. Regardless, the methods of preparing the worms for Billy's consumption leaves nothing to the imagination in the film as the boys boil in hot sauce, puree with spinach and broccoli, smash and smear with peanut butter and spread on bread, and various other tortuous methodologies they concoct to ensure that Billy will be unable to consume the worms without tossing his cookies in the process. Credit to the special effects artists for the film claims no worms were hurt in the making of this movie, so how they made the worms is a secret to be revealed, hopefully, in the DVD.

For those of you who don't know the story, it all begins as so many movies about middle school-aged kids do. Billy Forrester's family up and moves to a new town probably due to the need to relocate for one of his parents' jobs. This move, naturally, causes Billy to have to change schools at just the wrong time for he will be forced to be the NEW KID on the block. Could there be a fate worse than this for a middle school kid? No. And the main reason for this is that books and movies like this continue to perpetuate the myth that it is necessary to torture the new kid. Anyway, needless to say, Billy, played charmingly by Luke Benward who looks to have a great future ahead of him in this profession, is immediately labeled the new kid and picked on by the resident school bully, Joe (Adam Hicks), who is taller, freckled from ear to ear, and in possession of a 'death ring' that if punched with, injects a toxic poison that kills you slowly by the end of 8th grade. Why the school with nosey, balding Principal Burdock (James Rebhorn) is completely unaware of this bully and his power over the other boys in the 7th grade is hard to comprehend. While Joe shares some qualities with Leave it to Beaver's Eddie Haskell, he is not so charming as that no one would notice the ripples he causes everywhere he goes. Fortunately for Billy, his is befriended quite conveniently by a tall girl named Erika (Hallie Kate Eisenberg) who helps him start to adjust to the new school. A first day prank where Joe instructs his henchmen to fill Billy's Thermos® with live, wriggling, crawling, squirming worms earns Billy the nick name of Worm Boy when he not only stands up to Joe and claims he loves worms, eats them all the time, and tosses one in Joes face—bad idea.

While a hero to many of the kids tormented by Joe, Billy now wears a target on his back. Joe catches him with his gang of would-be hoodlums on the way home from school on Thursday and bets him that Billy cannot eat 10 worms in one day by 7 o'clock prepared in any disgusting and sick manner he can think of. Not to be one to back down to a bully, Billy accepts the bet and spends the next 36 hours trying to do anything he can think of to get out of this bet. Not only does he have, actually, a very weak stomach, but he has a strong fear and loathing for eating anything gross. His dutiful parents played by Ed's Thomas Cavanagh in bad need of hair and make-up artistry and Father of the Bride's Kimberly Williams say all of the right things, but they really have no clue what is going on in their son's life. Sad though it may be, I know this is very, very true to life as the vast majority of 7th grade boys I've ever known do everything they can to keep their parents from knowing anything about what's going on in school, and their parents tend to feel this first step toward ultimate independence should be met with an appreciation for their son's developmental needs. Unfortunately, I think they cut the cord so to speak too soon and too cold turkey. There needs to be a period of transition. In any case, come Saturday, Billy begins the day suddenly in charge of his little brother Woody (Ty Panitz) as he parents go to play tennis with on of his father's office co-workers in parts and scenes of the film that do little but detract from the central story but may have been necessary in order to attract adults to play these minor roles in the first place. So, Woody, Erika (in the shadows) and Billy start out the day with the mission of Billy standing up to Joe once and for all and eating the 10 worms.

"… a fine, but not great movie… setting it in today's times and relying on the stereotypes and archetypes of the 1970s just didn't mix very well."
Not to spoil any more of the plot, I'll only say that, first, I hope the film gives no bullies in schools across the USA any ideas. While the film takes great steps to ensure everyone knows now worms were hurt, it does not give any disclaimers that kids should not eat worms or force other kids to eat worms, etc. Kids often think it's funny to make other kids or dare other kids to eat weird stuff. My advice is that if it's not a normal part of your every-day diet, you shouldn't eat it without your parents or guardians giving you the ok. Second, I thought the final scenes where Joe and Billy have to make good on the losing aspects of the bet was a bit too crude and suggestive. It's one thing to say this is just a kids' movie and it's ok. I didn't think so. There has to have been a better way to end this film.

I applaud Walden Media for working to bring quality children's literature to the big screen. They are making a significant contribution to entertainment for children. I would hope, that they might evaluate the stories and the way they translate to the big screen more prudently in the future, however, to ensure they are sending the best possible messages and educative pieces to their target audience as possible. The parental roles were very uninvolved (for a better model see Nicole and Stephen Trager from the ABC Family Channel's Kyle XY). The teacher and principal are incredibly stereotypical. While it is cool that Billy is so brave in standing up to Joe, in today's world, the reality of what kids can actually face in school when terrorized by bullies can be an incredibly serious and even life-threatening event. Kids should be encouraged to tell a trusted adult when they are being bullied, not encouraged to stand up to them as used to be the tried and true method. If this film were set in the 1970s before the days of kids bringing guns to school, I would have felt differently, but there is nothing 1970s about this film.

Overall, the acting is fine. The kids are all very good though archetypal to be sure. The story is gross, though not as funny as I remember the book being. The directing is fine. It's basically a fine, but not great movie. Its morals and point, maybe are a bit outdated. I guess if I were going to adapt the book, I would have either set it in it's proper time period, or I would have updated it completely to today's times. One or the other, but setting it in today's times and relying on the stereotypes and archetypes of the 1970s just didn't mix very well.

Related Products from
Other Projects Featuring: Luke BenwardHallie Kate Eisenberg
Clint HowardTy PanitzJames Rebhorn
Thomas CavanaghKimberly Williams
CD Soundtrack
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How to Eat Fried Worms (2006) Review-lite [150-word cap]
Walden Media's latest contribution to entertainment for children is the Thomas Rockwell bestseller, How to Eat Fried Worms. A popular books among middle school-aged kid of the 1970s, unfortunately writer / director Bob Dolman chose to keep the archetypal characters and stereotypical situations of a 1973-era story but set it in the present day. While Luke Benward does an awesome job of portraying the main character, Billy Forrester, the changes in middle school-age culture between then and now makes for a story that feels strangely out of place most of the time. Had he set it in the 1970s it might have seemed far out to present-day middle schoolers, but far less odd than that a kid would fill another kid's Thermos®—which middle school kids today don't use—with worms, and to retaliate, he would end up betting the bully that he could eat ten worms in a day.

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