How to Eat Fried Worms
When I heard they'd made a movie out of Thomas Rockwell's popular 1973 juvenile fiction book How to Eat Fried Worms, I fondly remembered a genre of stories I read in elementary school, including such classics as Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Fudge by Judy Blume, and the Ramona books (Ramona the Pest, Ramona the Brave, etc.) by Beverly Cleary. These were books with lovable, relatable characters who won our hearts and turned us on to reading. I lumped How to Eat Fried Worms in with the rest with a great big nostalgic awww.
Well, it should have been an ewww.
In the book version of Fried Worms, warring factions of 11-year-old male friends dare young Billy Forrester to eat 15 worms in 15 days for 50 bucks. It's a winning battle of wits and stomachs, a classic tale of friendship and boyhood fights. Well, when you cram that story into 83 minutes in the age of Fear Factor, that translates into ten worms on one gastronomically insane Saturday (with no puking). And the loser has to walk down the main hallway at school with a handful of worms in his pants. In other words, the movie version is all about the worms.
Luke Benward as Billy … and it's all about the worms
At the start of the film, Billy (Luke Benward) has moved to a new town with his mostly clueless parents (Tom Cavanagh and Kimberly Williams-Paisley) and his annoyingly cute little brother, Woody (Ty Panitz). Why have they moved? We don't know. Remember, it's all about the worms. When Billy braves the first day at his new school, he becomes the latest target for the campus bully, Joe, and his band of fifth-grade thugs. Why is he the source of such instant derision? We don't know. Remember, it's all about the worms.
At lunch that first day, Joe and crew sneak a fistful of worms into Billy's Thermos. In the ensuing cafeteria showdown, Billy shows a rare surge in courage (or stupidity) and flings one of the wiggly creatures onto Joe's face. Why does normally cowering Billy suddenly become brave and daring? Oh, you get the picture by now. In return, Joe issues the worm-eating dare, and as anyone who's ever graced a school playground will tell you, you have to take the dare.
So, while Billy's parents leave him in their brand-new neighborhood to care for his preschool brother that entire Saturday, mayhem erupts. The boys travel from kitchen to kitchen (eventually getting shooed out of each), finding new diabolical ways to prepare each worm. There's the spinach, broccoli, and worm smoothie. The Barfmallow, which contains marshmallow fluff, catsup, and the requisite worm. They even cook up a veggie-and-worm omelet at the diner owned by one boy's uncle—but that one gets accidentally fed to creepy Principal Burdock (James Rebhorn). Can you hear all the 11-year-old boys cheering "duuude" and "awesome!" Yeah, you will. That's if you can stomach this little family flick.
Throughout this fifth-grade Fear Factor, there are scattered lessons on the ills of bullying, the benefit of being true to yourself, the joy of true friendship. But really, what boy is going to remember a moral when there's an exploding worm? (Yes, you get that nagging question of what happens when you nuke a worm answered!)