By Guest Blogger Kelly Hines
If you have or have had a middle school child, you know the pain of trying to stay connected when your child is trying desperately to break free. It’s a gut clenching feeling that stays with you throughout most of the movie “Eighth Grade”, an all too real look into the life of a child on the precipice of high school.
Currently streaming on Amazon, “Eighth Grade” stars Elsie Fischer as Kayla, a socially awkward, prototypical 13 year old during her last week of middle school. Kayla lives with her single dad (played with heartbreaking realness by Josh Hamilton) and struggles to connect the life she portrays online with the one she conducts in real life. Kayla has a series of YouTube videos where she gives tips on being popular, having self confidence, and being true to yourself, all things she has difficulty with at school. The movie does a fantastic job of bringing the generations old junior high experience into the present by addressing social media not as a problem, but as a fact. Being a teenager in the digital age is the new normal, and “Eighth Grade” treats it as such.
My husband and I watched the movie with our oldest daughter Katie, a high school senior. Some of the scenes seemed like a word for word conversation we’d had with her. A father trying to be hip and relevant, extracting what little information he can over the dinner table, his daughter’s face looking down at Instagram. Some of their conversations were absolutely cringe worthy for both us and Katie, as we remembered our own experiences and our own conversations.
But for every uncomfortable moment, there’s a lighthearted one. Despite her social awkwardness, Kayla is a great kid. She is sweet and kind and brave and, as we see in one beautiful scene with her dad, still a little girl. My husband and I were both surprised when our daughter said “She’s exactly like I was in middle school,” because we never considered her awkward, or thought she had social anxiety or difficulty. “Eighth Grade” resonates because Kayla is everyone, even if the person they are on the outside doesn’t show it.
Elsie Fischer is incredible as Kayla. She is, above all else, normal. Her skin isn’t perfect, she’s not dressed in amazing clothes, and she’s going through that typical body awkwardness of an early teenaged girl. The dialogue isn’t sharp, there’s no rehearsed one line zingers, no staged jokes. It’s sweet and funny and real because it’s completely believable.
There is one difficult scene in the movie where Kayla is in a potentially dangerous situation, and another where oral sex is discussed in some detail. We had considered watching “Eighth Grade” with our sixth grade daughter, but after screening it ourselves have decided she is not quite ready. There are a few conversations that are in our near future, and we’ll have those before watching it together. It’s a decision that a parent needs to make depending on the individual maturity of their child, but I highly recommend watching it together when you are ready.
At it’s core, “Eighth Grade” is about the relationship between Kayla and her father. Throughout the tumultuous teenage years, the parent/child relationship is a constant. “Eighth Grade” was a lovely reminder that our love for our children is unconditional, unrelenting, and never changing, even when things are hard.
How about you? Have you seen this movie yet? What are your thoughts?
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