The older we get, the more we appreciate certain things, and on the flip side the less we appreciate certain things. Some of the things that we once enjoyed in our youth, even loved or worshipped, with the passage of time drift into the ever-expanding gray abyss that’s home to treasures of our youth. Maybe we even find ourselves complaining about things we once held near and dear, things that we once told our parents and other adults they simply were too old and out of touch to understand, much less appreciate or enjoy.
It’s unavoidable. With each passing day, we grow older than more people, and remain younger than fewer people.
So I felt pretty ancient a few weeks ago when I was told by someone around a half-century my junior that I “just had” to see the film, “Eighth Grade.” I would be blown away, I was told, by the story, and the lead character, played by young actress, Elsie Fisher.
Dubious, I figured...really? An early-twentysomething only a decade or so removed from actually being an eighth-grader thinks I’ll dig a show that recounts experiences I dealt with 35 years ago, experiences that to today’s eighth-graders are probably as foreign as a phone book? I jumped to the conclusion that “Eighth Grade” wasn’t for me, no matter how much the critics gushed over it.
Or, maybe, I told myself the more I pondered it, I could relate on some level. After all, there are some life experiences that stick, and junior high school, for many people and for better or worse, is among them. For many kids, junior high school can be the most torturous, dismal, horrifying and frightening time, and those memories don’t exactly disappear in a blink.
For me, junior high was the best of times and the worst of times. It was when I found a reliable crew of friends that provided consistent camaraderie, but also shelter. When you’re a sheep looking for people to emulate and “act cool” with, there’s no time period more intense and stressful than junior high school. So I was immensely relieved to fit in with those guys, and, in the typical sheep-follows-flock dynamic, when it was time to tease kids that we didn’t think were up to our standards, I fit right in.
My wife and I watched “Eighth Grade” earlier this week. Sitting in a dark living room with a couple of large pieces of furniture between us, I heard my wife chuckle a few times during certain scenes, but for the last half-hour or so, there was no sound coming from her corner of the sectional couch. When the final scene faded out and the credits started to roll, I glanced in the direction of my wife and wondered into the darkness, “Well?”
There was no sound. Had she fallen asleep? “Hello? Are you awake?” I said.
She sniffled a couple times, managed a “Yes,” and it was clear she was choked up. I felt a wave of relief, because I had basically been an emotional wreck for the last half-hour of the flick.
When my wife got up to grab a Kleenex, her “choked up” intensified into actual crying, although she composed herself in admirably quick fashion. She missed our oldest son, she said through her tears, and she added that – at least at that particularly emotional moment – she hated the fact that our youngest son would be a high school graduate in a few months and soon would head off to college like his older brother.
Considering what we’d just watched and the myriad of devastating scenes that unfolded before our eyes – and by “devastating” I mean poignant, gut-wrenching and powerful – I told my wife that I was perfectly content with the fact that our sons were older than remarkable yet struggling “Kayla” in “Eighth Grade.”
Kayla tried her damndest to fit in with the so-called popular kids, and bless her efforts. Through her sheer terror that actually brought on near hyperventilation, she found the courage to reach out to kids who looked down upon her because of their own insecurities, a phenomenon with kids that has more than stood the test of time. Then Kayla realized she didn’t need to base her happiness on their acceptance, and she was better for it. But by no means did it mean she didn’t remain vulnerable, and even scarred.
And Kayla’s dad, played by Josh Hamilton, now there’s someone a middle-aged parent can truly identify with, and admire. The scene at their backyard fire pit, where Kayla burns her “hopes and dreams” that she’d placed in a time capsule as a fifth-grader…did I use the word “devastating” already? Her dad’s loving, sincere pep talk is one for the ages, no matter your age.