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What parents need to know
Parent need to know that Eighth Grade is an extremely realistic, relatable indie dramedy directed by YouTube star Bo Burnham about going through adolescence. Elsie Fisher (the voice of Agnes in Despicable Me) stars as socially awkward eighth grader Kayla, a social media-savvy teen who's enduring the awkward transition between middle and high school. The biggest red flag here is the frequent strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "p---y," and more). But despite the swearing and some suggestive comments and conversations about hook-up culture, implied masturbation, sharing nude photos, and "how far" Kayla has gone or is willing to go physically with a boy, this is a good (if slightly cringeworthy) movie to watch with your teen. There's so much here for parents and their teens to unpack, from mean-girl behavior and too much/inappropriate screen use to the importance of being careful around older teens (particularly for girls) and saying no to unwanted sexual advances. Ultimately, it also promotes open communication between teens and their parents, as well as courage, since Kayla learns to love and speak up for herself.
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What's the story?
Directed by YouTube star Bo Burnham, EIGHTH GRADE (also known as 8th Grade) follows quiet, socially anxious Kayla (Elsie Fisher) as she navigates her last couple of weeks of middle school. Although she says relatively little at school (where she's literally voted the quietest girl in the class for the yearbook), Kayla does post short, topic-based videos on social media from the privacy of her bedroom, but not too many people watch them. Raised by a well-meaning but clueless single father (Josh Hamilton), Kayla struggles with a lead-up to middle school graduation that includes a few unexpected adventures, from an awkward crush on a popular bro to a forced invitation to a queen bee's birthday pool party to a special day at the local high school for incoming ninth graders.
Is it any good?
Fisher is fabulous in writer-director Burnham's poignant, sensitive exploration of the challenges of early adolescence in the age of social media and constant phone use. Burnham understands that middle school is the most awkward time in most kids' life and that the eighth grade in particular is a fragile transition year as young teens struggle with social status, puberty, and preparing for high school. Kayla knows she's considered one of the quietest girls in her class, and she's fine with that, because at home she records and uploads videos of herself talking about gaining more confidence, getting out of her comfort zone, and other self-help topics. Personally, her goals are pretty universal: She wants more friends, in particular one Best Friend, and a possible romance. But her social anxiety and earnest demeanor make it difficult for Kayla to relate to other teens, especially well-liked girls like Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere), or Aiden (Luke Prael), the boy Kayla is crushing on, who's apparently only interested in girls who've gone past second base.
Eighth Grade is (thankfully) not as explicit as Thirteen, but it's nearly as heartbreaking for different reasons -- at least for parents of teens. Luckily the movie has a somewhat hopeful message, as Kayla recognizes that making a connection with her father and finding friendship are both possible, if not with the so-called popular kids she admires. The pain Kayla expresses is incredibly realistic, and it will squeeze adult audiences' hearts as they watch a young girl attempt to find her place in an unforgiving social environment. There's a wonderful "aha" moment when Kayla finds her voice, and the inner middle schooler in all of us will cheer for the shy girl who's willing to tell the truth to her peers: Don't front, it's OK to be grateful and kind and to have fun playing games with your family, and to not be in a rush to grow up before you're ready.
Talk to your kids about ...
How are social media and screen time depicted in the movie? How is Kayla affected by all the time she spends online? Parents: Talk to your teens about boundaries and limits to screen/social media use.
Has your family ever tried a "device-free dinner"? If so, how did it go? If not, would you consider it?
How would you describe the relationship between the teen characters and their parents? Are these relationships realistic or exaggerated for humor? How does the movie promote communication between teens and parents?
Do you think strong language is or should be enough of a reason to restrict teens from seeing a movie about characters their age? Teens: How prevalent is swearing in your life? Does strong language make a movie more or less relatable to you?
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