A teenager tries to survive the last week of her disastrous eighth-grade year before leaving to start high school.
When I sat down to this coming-of-age film, I had the gripping sense that I was entering an awkward teen movie, and I began squirming in my chair immediately. But from the get-go, I laughed out loud, and at times, I cried. There were indeed some tough moments, but this little summer blockbuster is enchanting, tragic, inspiring, hopeful, and most of all, relatable. With a son about to go into eighth grade, I was captivated, but I would have been regardless of whether or not I have children; I was once in eighth grade myself, of course, and I found myself reflecting on how I became who I am today. This little masterpiece, which is writer/director Bo Burnham’s first film, is so endearing it helped me see the teenage struggle with fresh eyes, especially that difficult transition from middle school to high school.
Moreover, newcomer Elsie Fisher (Kayla) is fresh and real in the lead role, beautifully relaying all the awkwardness and insecurity of this tough age. Together, Burnham and Fisher elicit the gamut of emotions—I would shift from feeling sorry for Kayla to being proud of her. Aside from an identity crisis, the relationships between Kayla and her peers—including mean girls and nervous boys—lie at the heart of this film, but the connection between Kayla and her sometimes bumbling single dad, Mark, (Josh Hamilton) is especially insightful as we grasp all the complications and nuances through her eyes: it’s tough to remember what it’s like to be an eighth grader.
Even though there are embarrassing and sometimes provocative scenes that might not be appropriate for all eighth graders, the gritty reality of Kayla’s experiences are powerfully poignant, making this an important film to watch with or without your own teen, for there is such rich fodder for discussion and understanding between the generations about tough topics, such as sex, screen time, and character issues. Eighth Grade is a must-see for all who have an eighth grader or whoever was one.
The Dove Take:
This film is an important window into the heart and mind of a modern generation that to many of us seem more lost than the last. However, throughout and especially in the end, we are reminded that the resiliency of the human spirit and the fact that life is a series of phases reigns supreme. This truth leaves the viewer with a sense of renewed hope for the future as we are reminded that human growth and potential are embodied in the individual who can choose at any given time the path they walk. As a result of profane language and provocative visual scenes of a mature subject manner, Dove is unable to award Eighth Grade the Dove-Approved Seal.