David Strat­ton

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

We’ve seen count­less movies about the woes of teenage kids, but they’re usu­ally aged be­tween 16 and 18; Kayla (the re­mark­able Elsie Fisher), the fo­cus of youth­ful di­rec­tor Bo Burn­ham’s first fea­ture, is only 13, an “in-be­tween” age that many of us prob­a­bly re­mem­ber as be­ing very dif­fi­cult and very painful.

Kayla’s mother left — un­der what cir­cum­stances we never dis­cover — when she was a baby, and the ab­sence of a mother’s love is a gap­ing void in her life. Her dad, Mark (Josh Hamilton), is a de­voted fa­ther, but com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the two is dif­fi­cult given that Kayla is not ex­actly ar­tic­u­late — her favourite word, of course, is “cool”, but she tells her dad he’s “weird” when he’s only act­ing con­cerned. She spends al­most all her time in her bed­room hunched over her lap­top, or tex­ting on her mo­bile phone — which, af­ter she hurls it across the room in frus­tra­tion, has to be viewed through cracked glass.

Two years ear­lier, when she was 11, Kayla had buried a shoe­box ad­dressed to “the coolest girl in the world”; it con­tained some of the things im­por­tant to her then, in­clud­ing a mes­sage to her older self. Now she finds those child­ish sou­venirs hope­lessly dated.

Kayla posts lit­tle hom­i­lies on­line, minia­ture lec­tures on sub­jects like “Be­ing your­self”, “Putting your­self out there” and “How to be con­fi­dent”, though she’s pretty sure that few, if any, of her peers ac­tu­ally read them. At school she’s a loner, quiet and re­served, with no real friends. She lives in a con­stant state of anx­i­ety, wor­ry­ing about mak­ing friends, talk­ing to boys, what to do and what not to do.

One of the most popular girls in her class is Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere), but she treats Kayla with dis­dain. So when Kennedy’s mother, obliv­i­ous to the ten­sion be­tween them, in­sists that Kayla must come to Kennedy’s pool party, it’s a bit em­bar­rass­ing. “You’ll be in­vited via Face­book,” the mother as­sures Kayla, while Kennedy mut­ters that “no­body uses Face­book any more”. De­spite this un­wel­com­ing at­ti­tude, Kayla turns up at the party and, un­sur­pris­ingly, turns out to be the only girl in a one-piece swim­suit — all the oth­ers are wear­ing biki­nis. She does, how­ever, meet Gabe (Jake Ryan), Kennedy’s cousin, who seems to be as awk­ward and so­cially chal­lenged as she is.

She’d like a boyfriend, of course, but her ex­pec­ta­tions are low. One boy, the surly Ai­den (Luke Prael), ex­presses in­ter­est when she (falsely) claims she has nude photographs of her­self that she’s sav­ing up to show a fu­ture boyfriend. This ex­change takes place dur­ing a lock­down drill in which the kids are told what to do if a gun­man starts shoot­ing in the school. This in it­self is a shock­ing in­dict­ment of to­day’s Amer­ica, but it’s some­how made even worse when we see that the kids are pay­ing lit­tle or no at­ten­tion to Eighth Grade (M) Lim­ited na­tional re­lease Pierc­ing (tbc) Lim­ited re­lease from Thurs­day Pick of the Lit­ter (G) Lim­ited re­lease from Thurs­day

Elsie Fisher in Christo­pher Ab­bott and Mia Wasikowska, be­low, in

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