Family Movie Review: Eighth Grade (R)

'Eighth Grade' is personal, uncomfortable, and lovely, a slice-of-life look into current adolescence, our reliance on social media, and growing into oneself.

Kernel Rating: 4.5 out of 5

MPAA Rating: R       Length: 94 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. Although rated R for cursing and talk about sex, 'Eighth Grade' is an appropriate watch for middle schoolers and high schoolers; its depiction of teen life is accurate and personal. Although teens talk about sexual activity, including nude cellphone pics, and the protagonist is put in an uncomfortable sexual situation, the movie doesn't advocate for or support those behaviors. Some scenes are uncomfortable to watch (especially one where Kayla searches YouTube for tips about oral sex), but the character's realization that she's not at all ready to engage in these kinds of situations, and the movie telling viewers that her choice to abstain from those things is OK, are important for young viewers to see.

By Roxana Hadadi

Middle school may only last three years, but it's a time of significant change, of growing up quickly, of maybe getting your first cellphone or having your first kiss, of discovering what subjects you like in school and whether you can work well in a group, of creating friendships that may last for years to come. Those are all monumental occurrences in the life of a young teenager, and they're what Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) desperately wants to experience in "Eighth Grade" -- she just hasn't yet.

EighthGrade1 ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKayla is the only daughter of a single father (Josh Hamilton) who adores her but can't quite connect with her because of Kayla's reliance on social media, and the film takes place in that week before eighth grade graduation, when classes have mostly wrapped up and there are only a few months before the end of middle school and the beginning of high school. Most of Kayla's time after school is spent scrolling through Instagram and Twitter, listening to music, and making YouTube videos in which she talks about self-confidence and being yourself -- but those are things Kayla struggles with every day.

When presented with the time capsule she made in sixth grade, in which Kayla from two years ago made a video asking if eighth-grade Kayla was "cool" or had a boyfriend, present-day Kayla realizes that she's not exactly who she wants to be. But her anxiety and her discomfort with the judgmental, casually cruel popular kids feel like insurmountable obstacles. Her father tells her she's awesome, but his love doesn't seem like enough -- not when it seems like being popular, accepted, and liked is so easy for everyone else.

The teen-movie genre seems to have moved on from presenting an adolescence in which partying, drinking and smoking, and sexual activity are awesome and universal, and "Eighth Grade" makes the point that those activities aren't comfortable for everyone. Kayla's character isn't ready for those behaviors, and her wariness will be a good jumping-off point for conversations between parents and children after the film. The reality is that because of sexual media, tweens and teens are engaging in behaviors that may seem shocking to adults but are everyday normalcy for younger viewers, and "Eighth Grade" provides an opportunity to talk about those issues, gauge where middle school and high school students are on them, and have constructive discussions about what is safe and healthy.

What Kayla goes through is relatable, sympathetic, and scary, especially in a scene where she hangs out with high school students and a boy takes an interest in her that goes from flattering to dangerous very quickly. How "Eighth Grade" presents these situations while also underlining what makes Kayla's experiences simultaneously common to this age group but unique to her in particular is a deft balancing act, and Kayla will fully capture your heart. "Eighth Grade" is honest, engaging, and enlightening, a film about growing up in the age of social media that has sympathy for teen characters who desperately need it.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.