On the last day of 2018 I made perhaps the greatest discovery of the year. Cinema Nova, less than 3km from my house, offers $7 movie tickets on Mondays! $7! That’s almost ’90s cheap Tuesday prices! In the ’90s on Tuesdays, I would go to the cinema after school and watch up to three movies for less than the price of one movie today. Those were the glory days! And now I’ve discovered I could do that again! So one of my (definitely not dumb) New Year resolutions is to watch a movie there every Monday I possibly can. I may even review a few of them here on the blog.
I started the year with Eighth Grade. It’s a film about Kayla Day (played excellently by Elise Fisher), an eighth-grade girl enduring her last week of Middle School before she heads off to High School at the end of the summer. In terms of plot it is mostly very, very dull. Girl goes to school, girl goes to a party, girl goes to the mall, girl talks to Dad, girl graduates. But this movie is not dull at all. Because the whole film is told from Kayla’s perspective, it’s full of angst and anxiety. The small things become huge, and big things are monumental because when you’re 14 years-old sometimes whatever issues you have will fill any and all available space, whether they deserve the space or not.
Kayla is one of the most awkward kids ever put on the screen. Her difficulty in making conversation with anyone, her terrible attempts at flirting, her stilted relationship with her dad – she doesn’t seem to quite get how to do any of it. This is not a disaster movie, but much it feels like a disaster. In one scene Kayla vlogs about feeling nervous all the time, feeling those butterflies like you’re about to get on a rollercoaster without ever having the thrill of the rollercoaster or the joy and relief of having achieved something scary. Hearing that, I was reminded of how I felt nervous every day that I arrived at High School right up to year 12 for no reason other than I was arriving at school. School wasn’t particularly bad, it’s just that I was a teenager.
There is one scene where Kayla arrives at a pool party and has to go into the bathroom to get changed. Her private meltdown will resonate with anyone who hates pool parties. Another scene, that takes place in the backseat of the car, the film’s #metoo moment, is definitely not what you expect, it’s both tame, terrifying, and sickening all at the same time.
This is not your average teen comedy, it’s a whole lot better and more real than your average teen comedy. It doesn’t promise that the average girl can become hot if she just takes off her glasses and lets down her hair, or that if you’re persistent you can get the boy or girl of your dreams. It’s not full of good-looking 20-somethings playing 16 year-olds. It’s about growing up and learning to navigate the world and relationships. It doesn’t pretend everything will be fun or easy in the end. It could all be horrible, but you can make it through. You’ll be ok.
From what I can tell the film is a pretty accurate portrayal of what life is like as an eighth-grade girl today. However seeing as I am not one, and have never been one, I’d love to know what kids that age think of the film. Perhaps I’ll have a screening at youth group (though content-wise I probably couldn’t). But I would encourage anyone who works or volunteers in youth ministry to watch this film. It’ll remind you what it’s like to be a teenager. And it might also help you figure out what teenagers do on their screens all day.