Eighth Grade, written and directed by Bo Burnham, released in theaters in August 2018, but it may have slipped past your movie-going radar. Now streaming on a variety of platforms, Burnam’s first feature film is must-see viewing for parents of children, who are in, or nearing, their tween-age years. Most of us wouldn’t choose to relive our middle school lives, but this production affords viewers a vicarious revisit to the many trials and triumphs of those times.
Main character, Kayla Day, portrayed by Golden Globe nominee Elsie Fisher, teetering on the verge of high school, must first get through her final week of eighth grade. The emotions she experiences deliver a bout of déjà vu. Eighth Grade also introduces the unique issues of adolescence in a digital age, unfamiliar territory for most viewers over 30.
What do you remember about eighth grade?
Kayla’s days are an eclectic mix of Snapchat, Spongebob and school shooting drills. She struggles with identity issues in a world that allows her to shift from being seen as the quietest in her class to the more bubbly and confident personality she exudes when making videos for her YouTube channel. Enter the rather confused head of her single-parent household, Mark Day, played convincingly by actor Josh Hamilton. Parental viewers will both relate to, and root for, this dad who tries again and again to connect with his child who is becoming a bit of a stranger.
From initiating conversations which get one word responses, to attempting to widen his daughter’s social circle, skills, that are novice at best, are no match to the new parenting challenges he faces.
With the tagline, “Based on the most awkward year of your life” and an R-rating, Eighth Grade addresses highly sensitive topics including being pressured sexually. Kayla’s rapid movement from “innocent” about sexual specifics to “ill-informed,” through a Google search may lead parents to be more diligent about monitoring their child’s laptop.
Caring for young people
Viewing Eighth Grade with like-minded adults can spark conversations and better parenting. Whether watched by co-workers at a school, volunteers for a non-profit or neighborhood parents, this film stirs uncomfortable emotions from a safe distance. Discussing what is, and what is not, realistic in the movie can lead to empathy and increased connection to community youth.