Tag Archive: slice of life

Eighth Grade

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

While visiting Oak Park a few weeks back, the husband and I decided to take in one of those independent movies that doesn’t come down this way very often.

eighth grade posterWatching Eighth Grade was like seeing one of those movies that felt true to life. It’s a slice of life story that seems to be about nothing. It is rated R so the kids who would recognize everything depicted as true and everything depicted as false can’t get to see this movie on their own. Parents have to be willing to take their own eighth graders to this movie. But also be prepared to talk about it afterwards.

The story is about a girl during her final week of eighth grade. Kayla is a quiet shy girl who makes videos on how to be more confident or how to be yourself. That doesn’t mean she actually does these things but nor does she not try. Her stories come from the point of view to classmates she wants to be like.

But this girl is also looking forward to high school in the hopes that things will be different. She clicks with her mentor immediately, which gives Kayla hope. She also has a huge crush on the cutest boy in class and wonders how to make him more than an acquaintance. Meanwhile, Dad is trying to connect with his daughter. He is genuinely concerned about his daughter and tries to be supportive as he daughter makes the big transition to high school.

There were times I wondered where this movie was going. It moves slow and sometimes our lead character is contradictory in her actions. She pretends in her videos to be more outgoing than she really is.

But in the end, I saw this girl grow and change. We see her being awkward and afraid and reclusive till she decides not to be these things.

eighth grade kayla n dadThis is one of those movies that doesn’t have a lot of action. But Kayla needs to be brave and we watch her grow her emotional strength. It would not surprise me if this movie becomes an Oscar TM contender, considering the honest and raw performance given by Elsie Fisher as Kayla. Josh Hamilton also comes through with a strong performance as a dad trying to figure out his daughter, a beautiful kind girl trying to find her way.

Kid actors can overplay a role and not be consistent. But Elise Fisher completes all of the right moves in this role. She makes Kayla vulnerable and afraid and brave.

Now I do need to warn you that there is some swearing in this movie. There are moments that are uncomfortable because it features some sexuality that is unwanted,. How Kayla responds is what keeps you watching.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.


Oh, Maggie

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

Some actors make it hard for you not to watch. Their ability to channels others and tell incredible stories are amazing feats. Some are so good, they could read the phone book and make it interesting.

That is how I feel about the British actress Maggie Smith. Some of you know here are the indomitable Proprofessor-mcgonnegalfessor McGonagall from the Harry Potter Movies. Here she is delightfully in charge at all times but there is always a hint of whimsy in her eyes, as if she is just waiting to do a little mischief. A rule player until the time she gets to break the rules, Smith gave McGonagall all of the stiff upper lip and the twinkle of affection for her students.

Some might know her as the Dowager in Downton Abby. Putting all of her regal behavior into one character, we begin to understand the very rich when Smith asks just what is a week-end. She enjoys a good fight with her cousin over control of the hospital board while using the same skills to keep her mutinous housekeeper in check.


Julian Sands, Helena Bonham-Carter, and Maggie Smith

I remember her most as Cousin Charlotte from A Room With a View. She is the very proper English woman who is stuck in the times as well as trying to live in the more modern era. Her inability to deal with her young cousin’s sprightly ways is complicated by her need to not to be a total stick in the mud, especially if she is being a stick in the mud.

But what I truly appreciate about Smith is her ability to do and try just about anything in the acting world. We know her for the posh roles she plays but Smith can get down and dirty as well. I just watched The Lady in the Van which was a BBC production that has since come out on DVD.

The story is based on a true story of a playwright, Alex Jennings, who allows the neighborhood homeless woman to park her van in his driveway. At first she parks on the street in front of the homes of various neighbors. Some treat her kindly, others are more brusque with her. And she treats them all the same no matter who they are. She accept food as if it is her right to be given tasty treats. She uses the playwright’s bathroom as if it were her own.

lady-in-a-vanOver the years, the two people develop as relationship, an affection of sorts, that aggravates Jennings because his mother is the same age but in a lesser degree of health. Why he seems to give more care to the homeless woman than to his own mother is a bit of a mystery.

Through it all Smith performs well. She takes a character who is unlikable and keeps her that way. There is no magical transformation to a nice person, no miraculous cure for her mental illness. The Lady in the Van remains an enigma despite all that we learn about her, she remains self-focused with moments of joy leaping out that surprise people, and keep them coming back with goodies and needful items.

This is a slice of life, a picture of a moment in time when a lonely man allowed a crazy person to take over his yard with her van and all of her garbage bags surrounding the vehicle. There are no chase scenes or explosions. But this movie is filled with dry English wit and warm moments.

Maybe younger kids should not watch it but it is acceptable for teens who can deal with the slow moments or the humorous ones.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Slice of Life

Family Movie Night


When does a movie go from comedy to slice of life?


For me, it is when the action slows down and requires the main character to cross a line. This might mean he has to make a moral decision, it might mean he has to stand up to someone who wants him to do wrong.


It might be funny or serious but in the end it feels as if a moral victory has been won by the main character and we, the viewers, feel rejuvenated by his decision.


I ask this because Cedar Rapids comes to the home market this week and the reviews are mixed. Some professional reviewers loved it while others hated it.  I am curious to see this movie because when it first came out, I heard many wonderful opinions of this movie.


There was amazement that a movie that had so much raunchy humor could also be sweet and touching.


The story is about an insurance agent who gets sent to his company’s convention in Iowa in order to win back a coveted award. Tim has always lived in his small Wisconsin town and has never moved, emotionally, beyond a high school stage of life. And what he sees at this convention with the men he shares a room at the hotel is eye opening.


He shares a room with a loud mouth braggart and a black man who is much like Tim. Along the way he meets a prostitute and an assertive female agent from Nebraska who, along with his roommates, help him grow up a bit and deal with the convention.


Ed Helms stars as Tim, playing the straight man to John C. Reilly and Anne Heche, among others. This is a movie meant for adults with an “R” rating, the humor contains plenty of naughty bits that is funny in its place but not appropriate for younger members of the family.


I haven’t seen it yet. But from everything I have read, it reminds me of Barbershop starring Ice Cube. When I first saw this movie, I did not think there was much there. No car chases or big fight scenes but a picture of a neighborhood.


It was later when I saw it a second time that I realized what made Barbershop such a gem. The moments of joy, the moments of truth telling and crazy statements. People may not always get along and you wonder how it all stands together.  In the end it is about family – the one you are born into and the one you create.


This movie does have a PG-13 rating and single use of the f-bomb. Parents need to think about what they would allow their children to watch before putting in this selection.


Finally, if you are looking for a family-friendly ‘slice-of-life’ movie, one of my favorites is How to Eat Fried Worms.” The story revolves around a sixth grader who moves to a new school. Being the new kid he must get past the school bully. To do that the eating of worms are involved. The fun is seeing how a boy who has a very quesy stomach reacts to having to eat worms without throwing up. This is one movie I would watch with my younger children again and again.


Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.