Cool Kids Don’t Cry is a hopeful and touching film about a vibrant eighth grade girl who contracts leukemia, and how she and her classmates respond to her illness as it progresses.
The film is based on the popular Dutch children’s book “Achtste-groepers huilen niet” (Eighth Graders Don’t Cry) by Jacques Vriens. In 1990, he was a teacher when his student became ill. It took him 8 years to figure out how to write her story, to make it not as much about dying, but about the dynamics of an eighth grade class and the resilience that the student herself imbues in her classmates. The book was also made into a Norwegian film in 2014.
In the film, Akkie (Hanna Obbeek) loves to play football and strategizes on how her class team can win an upcoming tournament. One of the boys in her class, Joep (Nils Verkooijen), is a bully with whom she often conflicts. He’s one of the cool guys with a cell phone. But as she declines, she encourages him to open up. Not only does he become her protector, but in the end he learns to cry too.
That’s the plot in 50 words or less, but it’s not the plot that’s important about this film. What’s important and enjoyable is the interactions between the kids and the portrayal of eighth grade life and angst. After films like Eighth Grade and Thirteen, it’s soul-soothing to see a movie that doesn’t sexualize 13 year old girls and instead shows them as athletes and leaders. The perspective on teachers is also very positive.
The film has many hospital scenes and gives a straight forward sense of what cancer treatment is like for children and their families. Akkie is portrayed as a positive and almost perfect patient. She always asks for the straight truth and always works to be strong. The film doesn’t have a why-me attitude from the girl or her parents, as it really focuses on the class and how it supports and learns about Akkie. The mother is portrayed by Hanna Obbeek’s real mother, Johanna ter Steege.
The soccer is very minimal, just 5v5 practices with small goals. You don’t even see a real soccer pitch until the last scene of the film, when the class plays in the tournament. Despite that, the film does a good job of portraying passion for the game.
I avoided watching this film for a long time, because I assumed it would be maudlin or depressing. Instead, I found Cool Kids Don’t Cry to be hopeful and a better way to think about death. To think in terms of impact and not sorrow. To think about how you impact others without thinking about it. And to think, what can you leave behind.
This might be a good film for young teens, or for children and families dealing with serious childhood illness — except that they would have to be able to read the sub-titles.
8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8