I’ve been waiting for the film that would resonate with me like Eighth Grade did this past weekend. What made the movie experience even more powerful is I was able to take my own eighth grader (who will be a 9th grader when school starts on Wednesday) along with me. The movie speaks to the awkwardness of not knowing who you are and feeling pressure from every angle to be “cool” by any means necessary. These factors have always come into play when going through adolescence but when you add the monster of social media into the mix then we have effectively created a generation of kids that must deal with more growing pains than we could ever imagine. The movie is centered on a young girl named Kayla (played by Elsie Fisher) who must navigate all of these issues in addition to trying to prepare herself for high school. The young actress does a masterful job and one empathizes with her from the very first scene.
But to be honest it wasn’t her character that spoke to my soul as much as it was her father. Going through eighth grade is difficult but I have found being the father of an eighth-grade girl to be the most helpless period of my life. You sit there, as a man fully aware of how cruel the world is—especially to girls—and you offer your guidance and support to your child but your child is determined to figure things out on her own. And you admire her independence but you yearn for the opportunity to be relevant in your baby’s life once more. There is a single scene from the movie that perfectly captures this dilemma. Kayla is invited to hang out at the mall by her high school mentor and her friends. While sitting at the table with these high school seniors who she has very little in common with and for the most part is unable to join the conversation, one of the kids says she’s noticed a creepy guy looking at them but tells the crew not to look all at once. By the time Kayla looks up she sees that it’s her father and she asks to be excused from the table. It provides some perfectly timed comic relief; however, it also gives a lot of insight into the pain of watching the most precious thing in your life grow into an independent being.
The father played by Josh Hamilton tried to express this to her then apologized saying that he would get lost until it was time to pick her up. Kayla said that she would find her own ride home. The father says ok and leaves some money so Kayla could buy a few things. She initially refuses to take it so her father just leaves the money then goes away. The scene was so honest that I nearly cried. The father had been her sole protector and provider and at one point probably her best friend (her mother was not a part of her life) and now all he could hope to give her was money. For him to place his daughter in the center of his life for so long only to be suddenly forced out is difficult for him to accept. No matter how natural it is, no matter how inevitable it still hurts. It’s a very specific kind of pain too, and the film totally got it.
Eighth Grade is such an amazing movie. It’s so raw, tender, and real. It’s the best movie of the year by far.