Eighth Grade: A Relatable, Un-Relatable Comedic Cringe Fest
SPOILER ALERT: The review recalls events from a movie that was released back in July. If you are scared that I will ruin the movie for you, read my “too long, didn’t read” synopsis, Google “Watch Eighth Grade”, buy it on one of the 6 billion platforms selling it (or stream it illegally, I won’t call the cops I promise), then come back and read everything.
TL;DR Score and Synopsis:
77/100 – An above average film with a uniquely awkward vibe
To the Actual Review:
Years after roasting Katy Perry and exposing Justin Bieber through zany satirical songs, comedian Bo Burnham decided to take his one-of a kind talent to the big screen for the first time ever. His debut film, “Eighth Grade” took a different approach to the “coming of age” genre by examining the pathway to maturity through the lens of a modern-day eighth grader.
While watching this movie, one word came to mind: Authentic. Even though this should serve as a common sense precedent for movies about middle school going forward, the decision to cast REAL eighth graders instead of older people pretending to be that age paid off big time. It helped shed light on the consequences of fusing awkward teenagers with an Apple store load of technology at their disposal. The film captured the essence and behaviors of today’s youth, and the impact technology has on their hormonal developments.
On top of that, it effectively showcased how clueless adults were in handling the onslaught of rapid societal change. They seemed like clueless improv actors that only knew how to “wing it”; the adults responded to the kids’ tendencies but tried too hard to relate to them.
While the film serves as an introspective piece fixated on one character, its focal point, Kayla (Elsie Fisher), presented as a down to earth, sympathetic, and oddly relatable individual. Even though “Eighth Grade” made it clear that today’s youth deal with a myriad of different issues never seen in past generations, her persistent practicing in the mirror for future social interactions, constant fibbing in fear of looking silly to other people, and self-depreciative tendencies all strike a chord with anyone trying to get by in our society’s “dog eat dog” mantra.
I especially liked the various scenes where she would first converse with someone, then proceeded in her alone time to spend a ridiculous amount of time looking up videos/Instagram posts of said person to gain a better understanding of them. We all spend too much time looking up people online and then play coy when we see them in person. The film’s ability to not only expose this inauthentic activity, but also to make us realize how dependent on technology we are for basic societal functions impressed me.
While I commend Burnham’s attempt to re-create an authentic depiction of modern-day students, he was heavy-handed with the awkwardness. It got to the point where I wondered whether a single character in the movie was capable of having a non-cringe worthy conversation. I get it—people are awkward during this phase of life. However, some of the dialogue/characters seemed more like caricature images of people as opposed to someone who could still function socially (with the occasional falter or shortcoming). I spent a solid 85 percent of the film cringing, when in reality, that number should have been closer to 45 percent. Very few people seemed capable of talking to their peers without vigorously criticizing themselves throughout the conversation.
Burnham overplayed his hand on this trope, and it prevented certain serious themes from getting developed outside of Kayla’s rehearsed YouTube segments. The videos she put together for her channel were interesting, but ended up being a crutch that stomped on core themes. Some messages, such as the one highlighting the fact that a lot of us give out advice without the capability of truly following it, contain certain scenes that emphasize integral themes, but they are few and far between.
That said, there is one specific moment of sheer movie magic in “Eighth Grade” that I will remember for a long time. Near the end of the film, Kayla becomes depressed and burns some of her time capsule memories with her father present. She starts bashing on herself, saying that he only loves her because he is her Dad. His response to her tirade was brilliant. He verbally painted a great image of his initial fears of raising her, and how despite his anxieties and ineptitudes, she overcame a lot of life’s challenges herself, and that her bravery to put herself out there on a day to day basis amazed him. It was authentic and incredibly heartwarming. Every current and aspiring parent should take note of his response.
Kayla’s father (Josh Hamilton) was an underrated character in this movie. He played the role of “awkward and befuddled parent just trying to look out for his daughter that he loves” quite well, and he stole several scenes. My only gripe was that the audience isn’t told his backstory and how it influences his approach to parenting. We don’t even know what he did for a living and how that could have influenced Kayla’s creative, yet awkward demeanor.
Additionally, aside from Kayla, we (the audience) never know the stories of the other characters in this movie, leaving us to guess as to why they were the way they were and what drove their actions. My guess is that this was an intentional move by the director, but it made it difficult to see whether these truths Kayla espoused in her videos applied to just her, or to others as well.
“Eighth Grade” deserves serious credit for examining a unique concept. Kayla’s internal struggle was relatable despite the generational disconnect, and the film showcased some interesting observations on some of the negative consequences of being dependent on technology. That said, the shallow, cringe-worthy nature of the characters detracted from truly exploring many of the proposed themes in a meaningful way.
“Eighth Grade” is a clever, unique, and well written film. Unfortunately, it takes more than quality to land nominations at the Academy Awards. Usually, A24 Studios, the one behind this film (along with other gems such as “Moonlight”), is a lot better at advertising their movies and pitching them to members of the Academy. Unfortunately, this movie came out too early in the season, was not distributed particularly well, and seems to be generating very little buzz. Part of this problem could stem from Director Bo Burnham’s lack of experience with Hollywood. It will take nothing short of a miracle to get any traction at this year’s Oscars, and I give it less than a five percent chance it gets the coveted “Best Picture” nomination. It does nothing to stand out aesthetically, but there is one category it should (and most likely will) get recognition of some kind:
Best Original Screenplay: Based off the one aforementioned heartfelt conversation between the father and daughter, “Eighth Grade” should get a nomination for its screenplay. That scene alone SHOULD (key word, SHOULD) secure it one. The film also strikes a good balance between covering profound topics while staying within the limited vocabulary scope of awkward teenagers. The writing is simple, yet elegant, even if I do think it takes it too far on the “cringe” factor sometimes.