Movie Review: Eighth Grade

The CEO of Spanx, Sara Blakely recently made a statement, “I have to get better at not caring about what other people think”. This comment from a self made billionaire is one of the key ingredients to winning in life and being successful. Unfortunately, when you’re 13 years old and about to go to high school, caring about what other people think is your entire world. When you are 13 years old and the early stages of adolescence all you care about are the opinions of other kids in your age group. Most of this need to be accepted is an innate part of growing up, the other part of this is the extreme fear of being made fun of, of feeling like you will never belong, as if you are not as good as everyone else – an outcast, a freak.

Age 13 has always been a very tough time in anyone’s life but today, with cell phones, the internet, email and social media – its exponentially much harder, so difficult that bullying causing suicide is a common story in the news. Age 13 is especially difficult for adolescent girls who have to tolerate the subtle cruelty of other girls who can destroy another girl with one nasty look, eye roll or well placed debilitating comment during a lunch hour. This form of bullying where one individual can give themselves a temporary high by totally destroying another person is a fundamental evil in far too many young people – and adults.

What is most impressive about the new movie “Eighth Grade” is its realism about how difficult it is to be 13 years old in today’s world. I saw no evidence of acting in this movie, most especially with the lead actress Elsie Fisher, who in my opinion should receive and Academy Award nomination for best actress this year. Elsie plays Kayla who is the child of a single father and she has bad skin, is a little overweight and is terrified of not fitting in with everyone else. One scene that stood out the most was a phone call that Kayla gets from an older girl who is trying to help her get ready for high school and Kayla cannot stop pacing during the call – because her nervousness over the importance of this one call is so profound. Why do so many of us put so much weight on what people think of us? What makes the random opinion of someone who we don’t even know an important barometer of our self worth? Why is their opinion ever even relevant – have they walked a mile in our shoes? What makes this even worse is the bully’s that frequent this age who feed off the terror of someone feeling like they are not accepted by others and delight in adding fuel to their misery.

Kayla’s father Mark is played extremely well by actor Josh Hamilton, who is desperately trying to understand his only daughter and rescue her from her pain, even though Kayla is too anguished to ever listen to a word her father says. Mark is also raising his daughter as a single father and his wife’s absence is only explained late in the movie as “she left”. I thought the acting with this cast was outstanding.

Eighth Grade has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and I agree with this assessment. This film is the most real life depiction of what it is like to be a 13 year old girl about to go to high school that I have ever seen. This movie will make you wonder how you survived when you were 13 years old – realizing that there is a big price to pay for being young especially in today’s world.

Eighth Grade gets my highest recommendation and should receive a best picture nomination.