Rated R for really uncomfortable maturity things that happen in eighth grade. There's language, but the language isn't the red flag. There's a lot of people dealing with their sexuality uncomfortably. A boy makes lewd suggestions to the protagonist. An eighth grade boy pleasures himself during a health class video. An older student tries pressuring the protagonist into sex. I heard that some classes went to go see this because of its accuracy to eighth grade problems, but it is a pretty explicit film. R.
DIRECTOR: Bo Burnham
My big question is that Bo Burnham didn't really have a normal childhood. That's what I understand and I might be way off. If I am, I apologize to everyone in the world, simply because I can. But how in the world did Bo Burnham write such a truthful tale about being a junior high girl? Okay, I'm not a junior high girl. But for half of my career, I taught junior high girls and boys. The other half of my career has been high school (ride or die!). Yeah, Eighth Grade is fiction, but it feels so real. It feels so real that it is uncomfortable. That's kind of the message. Being a teenager is way more uncomfortable than it is cool. College is great. High school is rough.
I'm not saying that I didn't love high school. But can you imagine a more angsty time in your life? (If you are one of my students, you always have my utmost respect.) Eighth Grade is special because it doesn't take broad stokes at taking potshots at puberty. By that logic, Napoleon Dynamite has been the pace car for defining the awkward teenage experience. Instead, Burnham presents a protagonist who is complicated (which all authors should do). Elsie Fisher's Kayla is such a sympathetic character. My heart aches for her struggles. I want to find her a friend so badly. She is deserving of all of the attention. That being said, Kayla is kind of a terrible person. I don't think that Burnham would want me to shy away from that assessment. I don't know. He might be furious wherever he is. She is mean to those who love her and kind to those who scorn her. Do you know why that is? It's because everyone does that. Maybe everyone doesn't do it on the same scale as Kayla, but we all want to be appreciated by those higher ranked than we are. For some reason, we welcome the hurt that accompanies rejection. Now, think about how hard it was back in eighth grade. Yeah, that's tough. It's really hard to make new friends as a 35-year-old man, but I don't need that support system as much as I did then. I have people in my life that I love and appreciate. But I was convinced in junior high that no one would ever really love me. Kayla represents that fear better than I've seen on screen. She is so mean to her father. Her father loves her unconditionally. Kayla doesn't want unconditional love. I am paraphrasing Dan Harmon here, but unconditional love has an almost biological tie. It's almost being forced to love someone. Conditional love means that it is love that is given freely and an honest acceptance of someone else. It's probably why when conditional love evolves into unconditional love, we tend to treat that person a little worse. They can't reject us then. Kayla doesn't think about any of this stuff. From Kayla's perspective, she just wants to know why no one really likes her. Burnham imbues her with this duality that is so truthful. She simultaneously believes that she is the most worthy of love and the least worthy of love. Her videos is her thought that she is the most valuable creature in humanity. (This blog is mine. Please also check out my podcast at literallyanything.net.) But the show constantly presents to the social elite shows how little she actually likes herself.
I feel guilty giving credit to a white male for capturing the adolescent girl world. The world of Eighth Grade is a series of intricate traps that I never have to deal with. There's a scene where Kayla has to drive home with an older boy that she doesn't know. I've read testimony about the horrors of this experience and thought that I understood the fears that women face constantly. But empathy and sympathy are drastically different things. I've never felt it before until this moment. Like a good horror movie, I found myself screaming at the screen, begging for Kayla to get out of the car and running. I started breaking down Kayla's psychology and wondered if she had the gumption to run. I wanted that character break so badly to happen at that moment. I wanted her to make major leaps in personality and discover that the world wasn't built around social acceptance or popularity. It was watching a snake trying to devour a scared mouse. I knew that the mouse had no way to defend itself because it had never known a world where defense was an option. This actually might have been the most stressed out that I had ever been in a movie. Remember, I love and hate Kayla, but I became a father again instead of an audience member. That's the primary emotion I experience for the whole of Eighth Grade. I knew that my daughter would be in eighth grade in six years. I always feared the day that she left home and that we wouldn't have the same relationship that we do now. But now eighth grade scares me. Kayla's journey with her father is painful. Yeah, I criticize the choices that her father makes. That's very easy for me as the father of a six-year-old with a support system. But I also know that if I ever lost my great relationship with my daughter, I might do anything to get it back. I know that it is not about me and that's why I kept getting mad at dad. I suppose that my relationship with Kayla is the same relationship that I have with her dad. He is so flawed and wrong, but sympathetic simultaneously. Also, he's a guy with the best of intentions and knocks it out of the park at the end. Burnham has created this world that is just like ours...with the exception of a few scenes. There are some cinematic moments that kind of ring untrue for me throughout. We're maybe talking about two minutes of screen time total, but I can't help but point these out. Kayla's karaoke is cryptic. I might have misinterpreted this scene and it actually is a dream, but it just seems very Hollywood. I suppose it isn't too Hollywood-y because Kayla's life doesn't turn around because of one moment. Burnham claims that he had a very "karaoke" moment in his life, but it still reads a bit false. Then there's the scene that's for the viewer who has been kicked throughout the film. It is the confrontation and it's just the world of cinema. I really don't see Kayla making that decision. I mean, it feels great and cathartic, but that isn't the tone of the movie.
Her relationship with Gabe is great. Gabe seems a bit much, but Gabe kind of needs to be a bit a contrast to Kennedy. This kind of leads me into thinking about the entire supporting cast because the movie is so intimate. Shy of Kayla and her father, there are no real big parts. They all take a sliver of the movie, which oddly makes them more noticable. Gabe is the one who stands out. Gabe is the obvious poke to the audience. We all want Gabe to be embraced and accepted, though I doubt many of us would upon first meeting. It is great that his introduction is in Kennedy's pool because he is a life raft for Kayla. Her surrounding of water shows that she is drowning in this situation that she doesn't want to be in. I think of all of the parties I went to in high school and how I clearly didn't fit in. I had more confidence than Kayla, so it worked out B+ well. I'm mostly casual friends with a lot of the kids in high school. But the temptation that Kayla faces in that pool to hide is so palpable. I actually probably feel more of that at parties now than I did then. But Gabe comes across as this guy that gives her the excuse to hang out where no one can see her. For us, it's obvious that Gabe is a good guy from moment one and we see her mortified by the whole experience, to a certain extent. Kayla splits her dual nature, indulging in moments of appropriate childhood behavior. But then she puts on the show for Kennedy immediately afterwards, despite being almost instantly discovered for choosing a poor gift. (Oh, the gift that is unappreciated! Gosh darn you, Kennedy!) But then there's Olivia. For a character trope, she surprised me. It was so weird to see a character as earnest and healthy as Olivia in this movie. She's this double edged sword. She shows her that change is possible and that high school might be a time to redefine herself...but Olivia won't be there. Perhaps Olivia is the only healthy teenager and that's something I considered while watching Eighth Grade. It's so odd that Burnham makes me think like a teenager all over again.
It's such a small movie. I love it. I'm saying "small" in the sense that it doesn't try doing everything. Rather, it is a very intimate look at what makes a junior high student work. It's character and emotion and Burnham just nails it throughout. Thank God I didn't have a phone in high school. It was bad enough that I had AIM, but that social media pressure is tough.
Regardless, I hope you keep reading, because, um...you know. It's good to read! Reading, um, you know, makes you a better person. And you want to be the best person you can be. So you can, um, be the best, or whatever. Okay, thanks for reading. Remember to keep checking back because I'm, I'll, keep writing or whatever. Okay, bye! Gucci!
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.