Movie review: ‘Eighth Grade’ will send you on a wistful trip down memory lane
Oh, the irony! Here’s this great little film that insightfully melds together the humor and sadness and confusion of being a 13-year-old girl in 21st century America, but because it’s rated R, 13-year-old girls (and boys) can only see it if accompanied by a parent or guardian. But 13-year-old girls (and boys) will not want to see this with a parent or guardian, nor would those older folks want to see it with the younger ones, as much uncomfortable embarrassment could ensue.
This is a movie for adults. Watching it, they can feel for and sympathize with the protagonist Kayla, and some will no doubt identify with her. Those early teenage years are not very easy. But it’s also a movie for those viewers who are saddled with the R rating (for language and sexual material, none of which they don’t already know about). My advice for that second group: Sneak in!
Kayla, winningly played by Elsie Fisher (best known for voicing Agnes in the “Despicable Me” films) is introduced here making the most recent in an ongoing line of advice videos that she posts on her YouTube channel. The first one shown, addressing the subject of “being yourself,” has her facing the camera and stumbling through her off-the-cuff thoughts, peppering them with the overused word “like.” Other subjects include: “putting yourself out there” and “how to be confident,” all seemingly geared toward helping other kids – though it’s highly doubtful that anyone is watching – but in reality, existing as an excuse for Kayla to give advice to herself.
The film is set during the last week of middle school, with the adventure of high school right around the corner. But is Kayla ready? She’s not exactly a popular kid. She has acne and crooked teeth, is a tad overweight, and there’s no circle of friends for her. She’s chosen “most quiet” student in her class, probably due to her constant frowning and inability to join in on anything but the school band where, wouldn’t you know it, she’s been assigned to noisily play the cymbals. She wants a best friend. Hell, she wants ANY friend.
But the only person who wants to talk with her is her dad, Mark (Josh Hamilton), a sad, lonely, geeky fellow who also happens to be a nice man and a great single dad, but has no idea how to communicate with Kayla, who would rather turn up her iPod at dinner than chat with him.
Before long, viewers will have trouble deciding which of them to feel sorrier for. But, oddly, this is not a downbeat film. These two protagonists are constantly trying to improve themselves and their situations. Dad keeps coming up with new approaches to make a connection with Kayla, and Kayla attempts to listen to her own advice by “putting herself out there,” which culminates during one attempt, in a bout of hyperventilation. But hold on. She has her eyes on the big blue eyes of another kid in her class, the hunky Aiden (Luke Prael). But when she bumps into him, she dummies up. When she finally gets to talking with him, seven though she doesn’t exactly like what she hears (the guy is a little creep), she presses on.
In the middle of it all, with dad being confused by Kayla, and Kayla being confused by life, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The high school shadow program is approaching, in which graduating middle schoolers are paired up with high schoolers so they can get a glimpse of what awaits next year. Kayla gets lucky when she teams with friendly, bubbly Olivia (Emily Robinson).
That goes well, and while on the surface, it seems that not many other things do, there’s a subtle but clear-cut and positive character arc that she travels, some of it coming from her videos, which at least give her a feeling of accomplishment, and some of it from her well-meaning dad, who delivers a wonderful and warm monolog to her near the end that lets everyone know that everything is going to be OK.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Written and directed by Bo Burnham
With Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton
By Ed Symkus