Saturday, September 08, 2018

Eighth Grade

Last night I saw Eighth Grade, starring Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton.

Kayla (Fisher) is a typical eighth grader in the modern world—she's always on her phone, engrossed in her laptop and hosts her own YouTube channel. She's awkward and anxious and lonely, but she desperately wants to fit in with the 'cool' crowd.

There are wonderful things about this film and not-so-great things about this film that keep me from agreeing with the general consensus (that it's fantastic).

First, the positive:

  • The lead actress is phenomenal. Right down to the body language, how she hunches her shoulders as she walks, Fisher conveys the lack of self-esteem that plagues young women today and wears every scar in her downward glances.
  • It's refreshing to see a coming-of-age film about a girl instead of a boy.
  • In subtle ways, this film tells more about the horrors of the digital age than any previous fictional exploration.
Now, the negative:

  • Kayla's dad (Hamilton) is practically a caricature of the embarrassing parent. He tries too hard, says all the wrong things and shows up when he's least welcome. He would have been a lot more effective if he'd been less blatant.
  • The 'mean girls' that serve as the popular kids Kayla attempts to mingle with at a pool party are very one-dimensional. Sure, a pack of nasty girls can blend into one throbbing nightmare for any adolescent outcast, but the audience knows there is always more than meets the eye. 
  • In contrast to the girls her own age, Kayla's high school mentor is almost too nice to the young girl, inviting her to hang out amongst her pals after hours.
The pace is also frustrating because it's so uneven. We may get two or three comedic elements and then a long-drawn out dramatic sequence. I did look at my watch more than once.

So ... who should see this? Sure, parents should have a look. But really, it would be best if they took their adolescents with them and paid attention to the scenes that may trigger them. Have conversations about what to do if put in similar situations. Use it as an opening for dialog.

It is in those parent-child conversations that its best purpose will be served.


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