Eighth Grade, rated R
Eighth Grade is a film that all parents should see. It’s a film that all pre-teens and early teens should see as well. Since the film was given an “R” rating, parents and children should see the film together. There will be much that they can talk about afterwards. The film was written and directed by 27-year-old Bo Burnham in his feature film directorial debut.
The film follows Kayla Day, superbly played by 15-year-old Elsie Fisher, as she struggles to complete her last week of 8th grade before heading to high school. Kayla films motivational videos (how to have more confidence, how to put yourself out there, how to be yourself, etc.) on You Tube that few people watch. The videos are as much for her as they are for her viewers, as she struggles to follow her own advice. Kayla is socially awkward, struggles to make friends at school and embarrassingly wins the “Most Quiet” award from her classmates, even though she insists she is not really quiet and shy.
Kaya is raised by Mark, her single father, played well by Josh Hamilton. We are told that Kayla’s Mom left when Kayla was a baby. Mark tries hard to connect with her, but Kayla is obsessed by social media (Snapchat, Instagram, etc.). She lives her life through her iPhone and laptop. She longs to be one of the “cool” kids and to be friends with the other cool kids.
Kayla gets an invite to Kennedy’s (played by Catherine Oliviere) pool birthday party. Kennedy is the coolest girl at school, but she never pays attention to Kayla. Kayla is invited to the party only because Kennedy’s Mom told her to invite her. The party scene produces anxiety for Kayla and is uncomfortable for us to watch, especially if you were shy, not self-confident and uncomfortable about your body. The only one to talk to Kayla at the party is Kennedy’s cousin Gabe, played by Jake Ryan. We loved this scene because she had to work through her anxiety and show courage.
We see Kayla offer up a heartfelt prayer to God the night before an important day for her. She will be “shadowing” a high school senior and she prays for a good day. And it is a good day for her, as she meets Olivia, played by Emily Robinson (Transparent). Olivia immediately makes Kayla feel comfortable, takes her under her wing and becomes her friend. We see Kayla truly happy for the first time. Olivia is open to Kayla calling her, which she does, and Olivia invites her to hang out with her friends at the mall, though that evening ends very poorly for Kayla.
The film is rated “R” for sexual content (some of it is played for laughs) and situations. In addition, there is some adult language.
The film is well-written, acted and directed. It is both funny and sad. Fisher offers an incredible performance as Kayla. It’s painful to watch her move through social anxiety and peer pressure. Hamilton as Kayla’s father does his best to try to connect with Kayla, protect and encourage her as a single father. The film reminded me of my own middle-school/junior high school days when I was a shy introvert who lacked confidence. Again, every parent should see this movie to know what their children are or will be going through. Gucci!