I first heard about the coming-of-age indie film Eighth Grade some time ago when it was garnering a bunch of critical acclaim around the time it came out last year.
I stumbled upon an article about it that mentioned it was written and directed by a dude who is almost exactly my age, so I was immediately curious (and insecurely jealous, ahem …).
I’m not usually into coming-of-age stories about kids younger than mid-teens, and this one’s about a 13-year-old. But it came to Amazon Prime, so I figured I might as well see what all the fuss was about.
Eighth Grade Is Brutal
I mean that in every way you can imagine – I mean, except for, like, actual violence.
It’s the story of an awkward, insecure girl named Kayla (Elsie Fisher), as she nears the end of her eighth-grade school year. She has no friends, is tragically voted “most quiet” in her class. She basically hates her life. This girl wants desperately to fit in and has no idea how to do it.
Kayla makes online videos (which no one watches) to give “tips” about things like how to be confident, how to make friends, how to put yourself out there … the irony being that she herself doesn’t do any of these things.
We cringe for her over and over again, and honestly it’s kind of hard to watch at times.
My husband, who was doing homework nearby while I was watching this, asked me, “Is this movie funny?” And even though it’s supposed to be a dramedy, I responded without hesitation, “No.” There’s pretty much nothing funny about it.
Personally, I’d almost consider it more of horror movie than a comedy. Not horror in the normal sense of the term, but I was definitely horrified at it more than a few times.
A Real Eye-Opener
I don’t consider myself to exactly be estranged from, or oblivious, to the typical teen-aged existence these days. I love young-adult stories and I even spent a good amount of time as a middle-school substitute teacher. So I wasn’t really expecting to be shocked by anything in this movie.
But there are two areas that really stood out as shocking to me in this film. One is the sexual content.
Now it’s rated R and has a few nasty issues that might be kind of troublesome to some Catholic viewers – no actual sex scenes, but some sexual humor and a gross sequence where she’s looking up something sexual online.
But this 13-year-old girl’s whole social existence is so very wrapped up in sexuality.
The boy she likes is known for asking girls to send him nude photos. He asks her if she’ll do something sexual in order for him to go out with her.
Her acquaintances talk about sexting as if it’s nothing. And when an older teen guy tries to put moves on her, he references the future hook-ups he knows she will have.
I would expect this kind of content, and certainly not be shocked by it, if the people were, say, in their 20s. But these are 13-year-olds!
And we might say, “Oh that’s got to be exaggerated for dramatic effect.” I hope so. But I really doubt it is terribly exaggerated from what a lot of young teens are exposed to these days.
The other aspect that was kind of unexpected was how social media saturates this girl’s whole existence.
I had already read, before seeing it, that Eighth Grade made a bit of commentary on the social media and smartphone usage of today’s typical teen. So I was expecting some kind of cheesy, obvious, on-the-nose discussion of it, like in The Emoji Movie.
Instead, this movie showed social media and smartphones as almost like an extra body part for these characters.
There was no proselytizing on how we’ve lost our sense of real communication, etc. It was just that their lives were lived on and wrapped around this online world in a way that felt realistic, common, and still so very unhealthy. I’d say the movie does a good job making the point, without anyone really realizing it’s making a point.
This Is a Hard Movie to Watch
Eighth Grade is undoubtedly well-done and engrossing, with strong writing that avoids the trap of falling into cliché, and some pretty great acting. But its subject matter is hard.
You will cringe, a lot. And probably come away with a new appreciation for the fact that our modern society does not make it easy for a teen to be happy, emotionally healthy, or even good.
Perhaps I make it sound rather bleak. Well, so did this movie. Though it definitely offers some hope at the end, as we see that Kayla looks like she will be okay after all.
If you want to have a better idea of how teens live these days, watch this movie.
Personally, I’m glad I watched it. But I must admit that I am almost equal parts horrified and discouraged over it.