Movie review: Eighth Grade

an odd mixture of nostalgia and horror

eighth gradeThere was an easy way my wife and I knew the movie Eighth Grade was definitely on the right track; we brought our recent eighth grader with us to the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. She sat between her mother and me at the cinema, and alternated burying her face in into the arm of one parent or another in mortified recognition.

The film is an honest and poignant comedy about Kayla (newcomer Elsie Fisher) as she’s continually trying to figure out adolescence during the last week of middle school. Her father Mark (Josh Hamilton) tries to negotiate the terrain between showing that he cares and trying to give his daughter space, but just ends up leaving her exasperated. (Sometimes I know the feeling.)

I suppose what I like about the film is what it’s not. It largely avoids being a knock-off of Mean Girls or Clueless. Social media plays a large part in this endeavor – Kayla records a bunch of self-help videos – but she doesn’t become a YouTube star. It’s not an emo bummer.

Writer/director Bo Burnham, who says that he’s never been a 13-year old girl, talked on The Daily Show about how his stand-up comedy was really appealing to that middle school demographic.

Maybe it’s that there’s something universal about being person unprepared for the challenges of being on the cusp of adulthood, a period many look back upon with an odd mixture of nostalgia and horror.

The film is rated R for “language and some sexual material”, none of which was ribald enough to suggest you keep your teen home. In fact, some of the sex ed stuff is hysterically funny, and true.

Naomi Fry of The New Yorker says the movie has “queasy verisimilitude.” If you’ve ever been thirteen, you should watch Eighth Grade, and drag a teenager with you if you can.