Movie Review: Eighth Grade
Eighth Grade Barely Passes.
Eighth Grade had me intrigued when I first caught the trailers for the film. I am fan of stand up comedian Bo Burnham, who wrote and directed the film, and I was curious to see how his comedy influenced his first project.
I put it on my list to see in its theatrical run – as long as it played in my local area. To my delight it opened up at The Savoy, a local Indie theater. Eighth Grade had so far garnered a remarkable amount of praise from the critics in the industry with a 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
I was all in.
Location, Location, Location!
The Savoy has a genius set up for these Indie films, It’s an old brick building on main St. Montpelier, Vermont. They have two rooms that are furnished with couches and love seats and at best can seat about 40 people. It’s fantastic for these type of films as you feel like you are sitting in your living room with a bunch of friends, and the intimacy differentiates itself from the standard theater.
It’s a great litmus test for how a film truly performs, you hear every chuckle or laugh, you feel the unease during tense scenes, and you can sense when a film hits (or fails to) it’s mark.
I kicked off my sandals and sprawled out on the couch with my bucket of organic popcorn flavored with safflower oil/butter and prepared to take in the awkwardness of middle school all over again.
Eighth Grade (2018)
Eighth Grade follows Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) in her final week of middle school, and kicks off with her YouTube video about self confidence. Kayla makes these self help videos that no one watches. She has one or two views at most, but she is noticeable enough to rise above complete “ghost” by being voted in the superlatives (remember those?) as quietest student.
Her father, Mark, a single parent, tries his best to be supportive of her while still being “cool” and convinces Kayla to put herself out there, which leads to a variety of awkward situations of Kayla trying to become part of the cool kid club.
Superficial Summer School
My issue with this film is there is no substance here. All of Kayla’s relationships are pointless and quickly forgotten in the film. Her crushes are thinly veiled attempts to point out that all teen boys are misogynists. Adults are vapid morons. Women are one of two things: either elitists, or super eager to please.
Kayla’s interactions with the opposite sex begins with her crush Aiden, who barely notices her, but upon learning that Aiden is into getting dirty pictures on his phone, Kayla goes about sneaking over to him during the schools active shooter drill to awkwardly blurt out that she has naked pictures on her phone and she also perhaps gives blowjobs.
Bo Burnham cleverly interlace our gun and sex obsession in this scene and it works very well, but that’s essentially where Kayla’s and Aiden storyline abruptly ends.
Kayla’s next interaction with an older teen boy, Riley, is incredibly uncomfortable as he tries to manipulate her into a sexual encounter. The tension in the room was palpable during this scene and was again done really well, but yet again once the scene ends that was the end of that plot point.
Both were interesting story arcs where Kayla had to navigate through tough situations, even discounting the lack of character development of both boys. The real issue with them is that Kayla moves along without any sort of personal growth. You could cut out both scenes in the film and Kayla is no different, and this greatly undermines the importance of both scenes.
Everything from Kayla’s trials and tribulations are devoid of any substance as they have no impact on the film. Her father, her absentee mother, her social interactions are all merely plot devices and nothing more. They are essentially vehicles to get from point A to point B so Burnham can capitalize on Kayla’s awkwardness shtick.
Finally I feel that Burnham attempted to highlight the effect of social media’s role in the younger generation but failed to go anywhere with it.
Eighth Grade isn’t all bad though; there is quite a bit to like about the film, most notably the performance of Elsie Fisher. As Kayla she will bring you right back to those uncomfortable middle school years and have you cringing because she is convincingly relatable. Individual scenes are well executed, and Burnham’s use of over-exaggerated music cues to induce anxiety was incredibly well done.
While I feel Eighth Grade lacked substance this was a promising start for Director Bo Burnham. As a character study piece I felt that he could have done much more. Ultimately, I left the theater feeling I enjoyed the film despite Eighth Grade’s overall narrative having missed the mark.