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"EIGHTH GRADE"
(2018) (Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: An unpopular student tries to make it through eighth grade and the accompanying trials and tribulations of being a young adolescent girl.
PLOT:
Kayla Day (ELSIE FISHER) is a young adolescent girl who lives with her single dad, Mark (JOSH HAMILTON), and is finishing up her time in eighth grade. Voted the quietest girl at her school, she makes and posts online videos instructing others about how to be yourself, be confident and so on, but doesn't always follow her own advice.

She has a crush on classmate Aiden (LUKE PRAEL) who doesn't know she exists, while she hopes to be friends with Kennedy (CATHERINE OLIVIERE), the most popular girl at school. When her mom invites Kayla to Kennedy's birthday pool party, Kayla hesitantly shows up, and ends up drawing the attention of Kennedy's goofy cousin, Gabe (JAKE RYAN).

With her dad trying to help her but not understanding what she's going through, things look bleak for Kayla. That is, until she gets to shadow high school senior Olivia (EMILY ROBINSON) for a day. During that, she learns that others before her have gone through the same issues, thus giving her some hope, but even that glimmer of a better future arrives with related issues and problems.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Most everyone knows the old adage that whatever doesn't kill you ends up making you stronger. While that can be true in certain situations and with the correct amount of hindsight, positive outlooks and yes, even counseling and therapy, I highly doubt most people state or think of that saying while going through whatever hell they might be experiencing at that moment.

That's particularly true the less experience one has in dealing with the curveballs, body blows and rugs pulled out from under one's feet that life presents to most people over a lifetime. And that's what makes school, especially in the early teenage years, so horrific to so many kids.

Sure, we can tell them that "this too shall pass" and that they'll probably never ever interact with or even see the vast majority of kids they go to school with once they've graduated and moved on with their lives. But that doesn't make it any easier in the moment and no matter how much explaining or comforting one gives them that doesn't ease the psychological suffering they're experiencing.

And while any years of kindergarten through senior year in high school can be bad, those around the time of middle school seem worst. In the early years of elementary school, kids, for the most part, get along, while individualism finally starts to show up in high school and kids realize they can stand up for themselves.

But middle school, where bodies are changing, hormones are firing, and pecking orders are being established, can be downright horrific, especially for girls. Not only must they contend with usually unwelcome advances from randy and/or awkward boys, they often have to deal with the mean girl syndrome where if you're not in the cool clique you're an outcast or a nobody, all with social media magnifying each and every low blow.

All of that comes into play in "Eighth Grade," an astutely observational early teen drama where a terrific Elsie Fisher more than believably portrays Kayla, a girl who's about to graduate from that titular school period in life and is actively posting self-help style advice videos online. But the view count on those is zilch beyond her own activity, and despite the advice she's doling out, she's anything but confident in herself or wise about her situation. That is, beyond feeling the pain, anguish and loneliness of her experience.

We watch as she tries to impress the popular girl at school (Catherine Oliviere) and fails, and awkwardly tries to flirt with the boy (Luke Prael) she likes, only to realize he's only interested in her if something sexually related is involved (which then, natch, leads to her stumbling her way through researching that online and then trying to "practice" on her own).

The latter leads to yet one of many embarrassing moments with her single dad (Josh Hamilton) who tries to be as accommodating as he can regarding her typical early adolescent mood swings, high drama moments and such. Things do look up when she gets to shadow a high school student (Emily Robinson) and not only learns that other kids can be decent and normal, but also that she might be able to grow out of and survive her current horrible social and school life she's currently experiencing.

But that ultimately leads to another bit of early adolescent trauma as one of Olivia's male high school friends tries to "help" the much younger girl lose her virginity. Throw in other newer realities of being in school -- namely having to go through active shooter drills -- and all of this that might sound like a depressing way to spend 94-some minutes in the dark. At times it is, especially if you've been there and gone through something along those same lines.

But the way in which director Bo Burnham -- working from his own script -- creatively pulls and puts it all together, especially with those advice videos serving as something akin to headings of the various chapters of this girl's life, it's a fairly compelling slice of life examination.

I'm just glad those years are behind me and I can watch from an "I survived school" vantage point where I hope this young protagonist makes it. Based on what's present, I'm guessing she does. "Eighth Grade" rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed June 7, 2018 / Posted July 27, 2018


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