‘Eighth Grade’ is honest, endearing cinema

Published Sep 9, 2018 at 9:00am

Everyone should see the indie movie “Eighth Grade”, currently playing at the Capitol Cinema. Teenagers should see it for the important life lesson that they’re not alone in this weird time in their lives.

And adults should see it for an in depth look at what it might be like to be a teenager in the ever-crushing world of social media.

“Eighth Grade” is a simple, honest look at a generation that must be glued to their cell phones, lest they be left behind by their peers.

It’s sweet, funny, tender and, at times, painful to watch, due to its honest portrayal of very young adulthood.

The movie stars Elsie Fisher as Kayla Day, a shy, lonely, awkward girl in the very last week of eighth grade. Next Fall, she’ll be able to enjoy the freedoms and excitement of high school, but for this last week of eighth grade, she’s got to face down some very real struggles with popularity, body image and her awkward, budding sexuality.

The film does carry an “R” rating, but only for some very mild sexual references. The catch-22 of “Eighth Grade” is that its rating makes it unlikely for real eighth graders to see it, even though real eighth graders are definitely living it.

The especially insightful part of “Eighth Grade” — alongside the typical young adult topics like boys, mean girls and pool parties — is the ever-present social media in Kayla’s life. She’s constantly glued to her phone, which is not only her main form of communication, but provides a tool to stalk the social media profiles of the popular girls that pick on her and the popular boys she’s crushing on, even when those people are rude to her in real life.

But the portrayals of social media aren’t all bad. Kayla makes her own series of YouTube videos with advice on getting through life, even if she’s too shy to follow her own advice. These videos provide a window into her true character and creativity. And if nothing else, the use of social media in the film can help parents and older viewers understand how important this stuff is in the lives of real children living and socializing today.

Therein lies the strength of “Eighth Grade”, the film debut of writer and
director Bo Burnham. It’s starkly honest, and that makes for a more relatable and engrossing film.

Fisher is phenomenal as Kayla, easily selling both her shy outward personality and her inner creativity yearning to breathe free. Josh Hamilton is funny as her single father, helping the viewer understand what it’s like to be a parent to this generation. The rest of the cast is largely made up of stock background and supporting characters, and they provide the rich context through which Kayla struggles.

The insight that “Eighth Grade” provides is just as important as the entertainment, and not many movies can say that. It helps that the film is one of those small release indies, so it can get away with more. But that just means it’s harder to catch in theaters.