Film Review – Eighth Grade
Eighth grade for those in the US is a transition grade from middle school to high school. Eighth graders are the seniors of middle school but quickly realize they are the peons of high school. Students attempt to identify themselves with one group of friends, and all are going through some form of puberty. To put it plainly, it is an awkward stage in school. Comedian Bo Burnham depicts all of this in Eighth Grade, which he wrote and directed.
Centering on Kayla (Elsie Fisher), Burnham navigates a young woman’s last months as an eighth grader. Rather than make a straight comedy of trials and tribulations, Burnham has taken a more serious, but still entertaining depiction of Kayla’s attempts to be relevant in the world of social media while also grappling with stepping outside of her “public” self and becoming the person who she is in private. This is all juxtaposed with her YouTube channel where she gives advice and direction on topics kids her age deal with on a daily basis. The problem here is what she is depicting in the videos is not how she presents herself in school and around her peers, but she is trying. Kayla’s story is peppered with that of her single dad’s attempt to raise a female teenager. Mark (Josh Hamilton) is the supportive, protective, and similarly awkward dad that really deserves that #1 Dad coffee cup.
The depiction of Kayla and all the things she goes through is something I could identify with based on my own experiences. However, considering there was no internet, social media, or smartphones when I was in middle school, there is something new added to Burnham’s script and Fisher’s depiction that I am glad I never had to experience. Now when you leave school, your friends and your rivals go with you on social media, creating never-ending space in your life that you truly never escape your school and the good and bad events that it creates. Kayla’s social media depiction of herself is completely different from everyday Kayla, setting unrealistic expectations of what she should be like and comparing herself to others. Another way of looking at Kayla’s journey is that social media also pushes her out of her comfort zone and allows her to take chances.
There are so many high school comedies or dramedies that show the nerdy or unpopular teens pitted against the popular teens. Burnham realistic portrayal of an eighth grader who is not so much unpopular but ignored by her peers is a breath of fresh air. Add to it the acne, struggling fashion sense, and trying to find your voice, and who you want to be, I think there are elements in this film that all adults both female and male can identify with. Heck, I think some of my peers can see both themselves in Kayla and the dad.
There are several scenes in Eighth Grade that have Kayla getting what she always wanted: an older friend who thinks she is the bee’s knees. This spurns a hangout session (or sesh) at the mall. This is the epitome of happiness for Kayla, and embarrassment when her protective dad makes an appearance. This all leads to probably a life-changing encounter for Kayla as there are always people around that will take advantage of a less-than-confident teenage girl.
This event also results in the greatest heart-to-hearts between a father and his child. The speech given by Josh Hamilton rivals that of ending speech of Michael Stuhlbarg in Call Me by Your Name. I identified so much with Kayla’s questions to her dad and the resulting answers that radiated nothing but love. I had tears streaming down my face as I remembered posing similar questions to my parents. Seeing this film with my mom, I posed one question again remembering all that I had put them through as a young teen struggling to find her identity amongst so many life changes. I would highly recommend bringing your parents to see it with you.
Eighth Grade is all about nostalgia for me, and Bo Burnham depicted this time in a teen’s life as realistic as possible. It is not sugar-coated. Although I was in the eighth grade in the 1990s, Kayla’s story has elements that are relatable to my own experiences. It is one of those films that people will fall in love with, and the word-of-mouth will help it get seen by a broader audience. Take your parents or take your teens to see Eighth Grade. Gucci!