Wednesday, January 22, 2020
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Movie review: Eighth Grade

Quiet, honest, sensitive, awkward, and tender—that’s how a new movie from Studio A24 looks at life for an ordinary eighth-grade girl. What makes this movie extraordinary is that it isn’t about a championship sports team or kids doing drugs or doing other “cool” things; it’s rather ordinary, and that makes it incredibly insightful.

Kayla (an amazing Elsie Fisher) is a suburban girl, maybe a little more introverted than the average eighth-grade girl—or maybe not—but equally as connected to a pseudo-world through her smartphone and social media. We take a peek at a slice of her day-to-day life with her single father (an equally spot on Josh Hamilton) through her own eyes, as told in a series of self-affirming videos she makes for her channel. (Don’t look for them, as they only get two views, if she’s lucky, but she plugs away making them all the same. That’s eighth grade.)

The videos she makes have titles like “Being yourself,” which she says is all about not caring what other people think about you; “Being confident,” which is not about being “born” confident but about making yourself confident; and “Putting yourself out there,” wherever “out there” may happen to be outside your comfort zone.

This is a big deal for eighth graders, of course, though not so much for older viewers, as in high school students, who are in a “different generation,” according to one high school student Kayla hangs out with at the mall one day. His justification for saying that is that Kayla had Snapchat, since she was in, like, fifth grade. She saw naked penises, that is, since she was 11, a voyeurism this young man wasn’t privy to at such a young age.

Voxitatis is trying something new this year: In the past, I’ve asked high school students to write movie reviews, but I haven’t had any takers since 2011. If you submit a movie review within two weeks of the film’s release date, we’ll consider publishing it if it’s well written. If we accept it, we’ll donate $100 to your high school’s journalism club. I hope this’ll be a better strategy. So if you love movies, send one in.

Kayla also comes face to face with middle and high school boys who think they’re all that—or who somehow think they would be doing her a favor by having sex with her.

One scene in a car, as the boy is driving Kayla home after dropping off their other friends, is poignant and real. It’s the best advice yet about what a girl can do in a situation when she finds herself alone in the back seat with a boy who wants to have sex. The scene is handled gracefully, although the turmoil it causes Kayla is no less real than the car ride itself.

Eighth grade after all, going into high school, comes down to making mistakes and learning from them, even if no one else watches the videos you post. It’s about making the videos anyway. It’s about making a time capsule and burying it in the backyard with people who love and care about you. It’s about friendships, some of which will last and some of which won’t, but about making those friendships nonetheless.

On wide release in US theaters, August 3, Eighth Grade is rated R (a mistake, says writer/director Bo Burnham) for talk about children having sex and a few bad words. The runtime is 94 minutes. We saw the movie in Hanover, Maryland.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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