Last Friday I did something very unusual. I sidled up to the refreshment counter at my local movie theater and ordered a popcorn and a Cherry Coke at 12:25 PM, and the friendly cashier asked me what movie I was seeing.
“The Eighth Grade movie,” I replied, almost stuttering, “but before you judge me, it’s for work.” He laughed out loud. I guess he didn’t feel it was as weird as I did that a forty-year-old-woman was seeing a rated R movie about teenagers in the middle of the day. He assured me he was not judging me, and off I went into the theater, where I was surprised to see, I was not the only audience member. About four or five other adults were already seated. (I wonder what THEIR excuse was??)
Confession: I didn’t want to see the Eighth Grade movie
The Eighth Grade movie has been touted as a modern “coming of age” film, and it seems that these days the term “coming of age” generally means gross sex jokes or acts involving teenagers. So, I was not exactly keen to go see it. Also, I knew that the film, about thirteen and fourteen year olds, was rated R, so I was wary. As many critics have pointed out, teens of that age can’t even SEE a rated R film. And while many have blamed the MPAA for handing out the “R” rating, the truth is, the film’s creators could have easily taken out the multiple F-bombs and the references to oral sex and put in some other realistic-but-not-rated-R scenes and words in their places. But they didn’t. So, their artistic integrity is intact, but their target audience is gonna have to see the film in theaters with Mommy and Daddy, or, just wait til it comes out on DVD/Netflix, etc.
However, despite all that, I am very glad I went to see Eighth Grade. And it’s not because I loved it or anything.
I’m glad I went to see the Eighth Grade movie because I do believe it’s a pretty accurate description of what a lot of our teens go through today.
The awkwardness with which the movie’s main character, Kayla Day, played brilliantly by Elsie Fisher, goes through life, is downright PAINFUL. It will make you cringe, and it will make you uncomfortable. It will make you want to stop watching and leave the theater. Kayla’s days during school are filled with trying to sum up the courage to talk to the cool kids and make friends (they are jerks to her, of course), and her nights are spent solely on her phone, social media, and YouTube, trying to figure out how to look pretty, talk cool, act cool, and get people to like her.
For many 13-year-old girls with a smartphone and social media accounts, I think the Eighth Grade movie is a pretty legit picture of their lives. Kayla’s awkwardness and anxiety come pushing out of the screen and right into your heart. Twenty minutes in I needed some anti-depressants and a Xanax, but I do not at all think it was overly-dramatized. Kayla has a YouTube channel where she makes videos about how to make friend and “put yourself out there,” then she goes to school and fails massively while trying to take her own advice, mostly because the other kids at school are mean as crap. Again, this is not a scenario that I find hard to believe.
I would not let my eighth grader see Eighth Grade, but I think it would do many parents good to see it.
Kayla’s single dad is portrayed as loving, caring, and ultimately extremely confused by his daughter. The more he reaches out to her, the more she pulls away. I think many parents might see their own parent-child relationship reflected here, and gain some insight. (Also, the last scene between them is sweet and inspiring and so well acted.) I also think many parents will see the damage that social media can do to a thirteen-year-old girl portrayed in this movie, and maybe reconsider giving their kids access to Instagram, SnapChat, and the like after they see how Kayla and her friends use it obsessively and most often negatively, portraying their lives to be nothing like they actually are, and comparing their real selves to everyone else’s filtered highlight reel.
Bottom line: if you want a look into the social pressures your teen is facing, see the Eighth Grade movie, even if you wait for it to be available on a streaming service. After you’ve seen it, you can decide if it would benefit your child to see it as well. For my son, who just finished eighth grade and is about to plunge into high school, there wouldn’t be any real benefit, though I did discuss some parts of it with him. For your child, it may be a different story. But it’s gonna be awkward and uncomfortable to watch it with them…although I’m finding that those two feelings come up when parenting a teen, and bravery is definitely required.
I’d encourage you to at least read some more reviews and articles about Eighth Grade before you totally write it off. It’s not the feel-good movie of the year, but it is well-made, well-acted, and a pretty realistic depiction of a lot of the pressure our teens today face. I’m glad I saw it, but I doubt I’ll be going back for seconds…and I think both of those things are okay.
Check the trailer out, and you’ll get a taste of what the movie is about (though I do NOT think it’s this upbeat!)
Have any of you seen Eighth Grade? I’d love to know what you thought of it, and whether or not you’ll be taking your kids.