The new movie “Eighth Grade” takes me back to Centennial Academy, golf carts, and Algebra 1. Eighth grade was actually my best year of middle school and my best school year so far. I could talk about my third year of middle school for hours, but that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to talk about the new movie “Eighth Grade” by Bo Burnham.
If you know me, you know that I like video essays. I’ll stay up until 5 a.m. watching video essays. In fact, a video essay is what led me to see this movie screening (that and they were free movie tickets as a VOX movie reviewer, like, c’mon).
Anyway, so the YouTuber Karsten Runquist saw this film at Sundance 2018 and praised it tirelessly, saying it was a work of art, perfectly depicted middle school, the acting was excellent, yada yada yada. Runquist’s video led me to get interested in this film I hadn’t even seen a trailer for, so, boy oh boy, was this movie something when I finally saw it on July 19.
In short, this movie is weird, like an uncomfortable weird. I felt uncomfortable because it wasn’t what I was expecting.
OK, so a rundown of the plot: Basically, “Eighth Grade” follows Kayla (15-year-old Elsie Fisher) during her last week of middle school, facing anxiety with making friends, getting the boy she likes, and struggling to follow her own advice from her YouTube channel.
So, the concept seems kinda meh, not my exact cup of tea but could still be enjoyable. It’s the execution, however, that soils the experience. This film has a fascination with shaky cam, which is super annoying. They use shaky cam for every action scene, and it’s just repetitive. And, they use the same editing tropes over and over again. There are a series of sequences where they show Kayla’s face reflected on her screen, whether it be her Mac or iPhone. At first it was really interesting and artsy, but eventually, it becomes boring and expected.
My biggest issue with the movie, though, is that Fisher’s performance is stale, and her character is unlikeable. The movie wants us to be on her side, so they show her awkwardness and loneliness, but she’s a jerk to her dad.
One example is a scene where they are supposed to be having dinner. Kayla’s mom walked out on them when Kayla was a baby, so her dad has been raising her as a single dad. It isn’t implied that her dad is seeing anyone else, so it really is just him and his daughter. They are sitting down, having dinner, and Kayla is on her phone with her headphones in, not paying attention to her father. The dad asks Kayla how her day was and how she feels about it being her last week of middle school. Kayla doesn’t hear him because of the headphones, so she ignores him. This prompts the dad to ask multiple times, and when Kayla finally hears him she yells at him. She exclaims that Fridays were supposed to be days when she can do whatever she wants and she doesn’t feel like talking.
It’s kind of ironic, because I am also guilty of being a jerk to my parents every now and again, as I assume all teenagers are, but she is just nasty. Sorry, mom.
I do want to touch on what I really like about the film, and that is how they depict the transition of pre-teens to teenagers. A lot of movies are written by people who don’t really understand my generation, so they just make stuff up that they think will fit.
The movie sort of pokes fun at the concept of adults thinking they know how teens feel today by including adult characters who use phrases like “lit” or try dabbing, which makes everyone in the film cringe as well as the young people in the audience.
Snapchat and YouTube are kinda big parts of this movie, and they do it right.
Another thing they get pretty accurate is how middle schoolers treat each other, how high schoolers treat middle schoolers, and how, I assume, middle schoolers think of high school. Honestly, I have no idea how they accurately depicted middle school and high school culture. I assume it was just a matter of research, especially since we post everything online on social media. I do commend Burnham for taking this extra leap while other filmmakers take the easy way out.
This movie isn’t terrible — not at all, but it isn’t really good, either. It’s sorta there, you know. When the credits started to roll, I felt, well, that’s a movie. I guess I’m not the target demographic for this movie. As I stated earlier I had a really good time in eighth grade. But I do hear a lot that people’s experiences of eighth grade are quite different than mine, and I feel that this film was made for them.
Despite its flaws, this movie has a lot of heart. I hope kids see this movie and see themselves in Kayla. They can see that they are not alone in their experience and that it will get better in high school. Or not? Oh well, I guess I’ll wait for the next film, “Twelfth Grade.”