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Movie Review

Middle school is awkward. Not only are boys and girls coming into their own and learning who they are, but they have to learn about themselves while others watch and observe, too.

And sometimes that can be … embarrassing? Confusing? Annoying? All of the above?

Kayla Day is in eighth grade, and she understands. She feels all the things. What do I do if I like a boy? How do I make friends? Why is my dad so weird? These are the questions she’s figuring out with the help of her YouTube channel, making videos that reach out to her audience (or lack thereof) about the tough stuff of real life.

The only problem is that real life and what you put on social media aren’t always the same thing. Not every picture is perfect, not every boy likes you, and sometimes situations can be downright scary.

And as Kayla navigates her last year in middle school, she’ll learn exactly what it means to be herself.

Positive Elements

Even though Kayla struggles to be the person she encourages others to be online, she still has a lot of positive, transparent and encouraging messages to share. She even makes a list of how to be proactive when it comes to making positive changes in her life.

Kayla talks about what it looks like to be yourself, which means not changing who you are to impress others. She admits this can be hard and encourages anyone watching her videos to ignore the people who are mean and negative. She also encourages others to put themselves out there, to choose confidence, and to respect and love who they are.

Some other students try to pressure Kayla into compromising choices, including one involving a sexual situation, but she stands her ground and doesn't fall prey to that manipulation. Kayla slowly learns to love who she is, too. But the road to genuine self-acceptance is still a painful one for her at times. Along the way, Kayla also forces herself to step outside of her comfort zone, choosing to be brave in difficult social situations.

Kayla’s dad, Mark, is a genuinely nice (if often awkward) guy who loves his daughter. He always asks her questions, wants to know how she is doing emotionally and encourages her to be brave in her own skin. In one late night conversation after Kayla burns a box of her middle school memories containing “all of her hopes and dreams,” Mark affirms Kayla by telling her that he loves her and that he is “so unbelievably happy” that he gets to be her dad. He repeatedly communicates, in various ways, that she is growing into a kind, caring and compassionate young woman.

Spiritual Content

Kayla prays one night, asking God to give her one good day in exchange for multiple bad days somewhere in the future. Her prayer is simple (there's no "amen" at the end), perhaps a bit self-focused, but sincere. She apparently hasn't had much spiritual guidance, but she seems to have a high opinion of the Lord. Another friend admits to believing in God as well.

Sexual Content

Kalya finds out that the boy she has a crush on, Aiden, broke up with his girlfriend after she refused to send him nude photos. Kayla sees this as an opportunity and tells Aiden she has her own dirty photos. This piques his interest, and he crudely asks her if she’s good at performing oral sex. After the eighth grader says yes—which is a lie—she goes home to research what it is and how it's performed. Kayla (and the audience) sees a woman with a prosthetic anatomical device, and we hear her using sexual terms to describe it. Before things get any more graphic than that, however, Kayla closes her computer. Another scene tells us she's still trying to figure out how oral sex works (a banana is involved), but her father interrupts her. She also pretends to kiss Aiden by kissing her hand.

A boy is caught masturbating in class. (We see motions as he hides underneath his oversized shirt.) Kids learn about their genitals in a health class. Some girls wear short shorts, and others wear bikinis. Boys and men are shown shirtless in their swimming trunks and boxers. A young boy flexes in front of a mirror. A middle school girl is pressured by a male high school senior to take her shirt off. (She doesn't comply.) Teens flirt with one another and talk about nude photos. Someone is called a "pervert."

Violent Content

During an active shooter drill, a man pretends to shoot middle school students. A boy says he wishes there would be a school shooting. Someone makes a harsh comment concerning a deceased classmate.

Crude or Profane Language

God’s name is misused more than 10 times, occasionally paired with “d--n.” Jesus’ name is misused once. The f-word is uttered about 10 times. Other vulgarities include “s---,” “d---,” “a--hole,” “b--ch” and "p---y." Someone uses the profane acronym “LMFAO” on social media.

Drug and Alcohol Content

A young boy sniffs a marker.

Other Negative Elements

In a well-intended, but misguided, effort to give Kayla space, her father allows her to ride home with a group of high school seniors. She is eventually left alone in the car with one of those much older boys, putting her in a compromising and manipulative situation. (Afterward, we see her crying hysterically.)

Kayla has unlimited internet access on her Macbook and her iPhone. She researches whatever she wants to online (including sexually themed questions, as noted above), with no restrictions. Elsewhere, Kayla's father asks her to put her phone down so he can talk with her. She does so, but only if he’ll allow her time on social media afterward, she says. Other scenes include Kayla yelling at her dad and being frustrated as he fails to understand her.

A boy constantly makes flatulent noises to interrupt teachers and make others laugh. A young boy flips back his eye lids. Girls are both mean and passive aggressive.

Conclusion

There are moments in this film that feel strinkingly real. The awkard tensions, the changing hormones, the anxieties, the pressure to fit in. In an interview with IndieWire Studio, director Bo Burnham said that a “regular day to an eighth grader feels like life and death.” We see (and hear) that idea played out on screen: There's dramatic music when a crush walks in, a long pause before someone can find the words to speak, frequent harsh langague. All the awkwardness of early adolescence is here.

Yet, it left me wondering why so much of it had to be there. It’s not that these things don’t happen in middle school; for some they do. But if our kids have already been exposed to moments that rob their innocence, do we need a movie that graphically documents those traumas again?

And what about those who haven't yet endured those experiences? Might this movie's depiction of some risky behaviors actually awaken a curiosity to dig up information that is best left underground?

Perhaps.

That's not to say everything in Eighth Grade is problematic. It's not. Kayla is someone you want to stand behind. She’s the kind of girl you would have wanted as a friend in middle school. She makes some beautiful discoveries and is in many ways still delightfully, wonderfully, innocent in the end. And in a compromising situation that could have gone much worse, she stands her ground. Bravo, Kayla.

As the film progresses, she also develops a more loving relationship with her father and chooses friends who accept her for who she is. Kayla gradually realizes that bad moments, even bad years, don’t last forever. Things get better. There is hope beyond this awkward season.

If only that hope wasn't burdened with blushworthy sexual content, excessisive language and seriously awkward moments that make me remember how much I don’t miss eighth grade.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Josh Hamilton as Mark; Daniel Zolghadri as Riley; Elsie Fisher as Kayla; Emily Robinson as Olivia; Luke Prael as Aiden; Jake Ryan as Gabe; Catherine Oliviere as Kennedy

Director

Bo Burnham ( )

Distributor

A24

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

July 13, 2018

On Video

October 9, 2018

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Kristin Smith

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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