Most of us were in eighth grade about half a decade ago. Whether or not we enjoyed our experience, it was definitely very different from the experience that eighth graders are having today. First-time writer/director Bo Burnham is even further removed from today’s eighth graders, but he is still able to tap into all the different struggles that they deal with in a powerful way.
What it’s about
Eighth Grade tells the story of Kayla Day’s last week of middle school and shows the struggles that come along with it. This seemingly simple tale turns out to be one of the best movies of the year. It is an extremely confident movie about a girl who claims to be constantly nervous.
This is a relatable movie. Not only because of the fact that just about everyone has had a middle school experience, but because the story is presented realistically. Burnham does a great job of making the characters talk the way that middle schoolers actually talk. They don’t just sound like some adult was trying to write their dialogue for them. In fact, even the adults speak in a realistic way. The movie doesn’t present dialogue and personal interactions to be something that flows perfectly. Instead, people are genuinely awkward. They stutter and stumble over their words and don’t always know exactly what to say. It seems like an interaction that anyone could have with another person.
The only character that has any sort of arc other than Kayla is her father. We aren’t really allowed to learn about other people because it is Kayla’s story. Burnham wants to put on display the life of a specific middle schooler and everything that she has to go through. He keeps the camera on Kayla through the use of close-ups and by having the camera’s focus be on her. It is the best kind of empathizing with a character in a movie because we really feel like we are there with her, and in some cases, that we are her. This makes for a huge emotional impact. There is one scene in particular (which I won’t go into because of spoilers) that had me feeling more uncomfortable than I have in almost any movie I have ever seen. This is because of the structure and the framing of the scene, and it’s because of how much Burnham allows the audience to really experience this week along with Kayla.
The film also offers commentary on modern technology and even the Me Too/Time’s Up movement (the latter of which I again won’t get into due to spoilers). Throughout the whole movie, we see young teenagers using their phones and we are shown some effects of this constant use of technology. But it doesn’t condemn this use. It is as if the movie is saying, “This is the way kids and adults alike live these days. Get used to it.”
But the biggest theme that Eighth Grade explores is one about becoming yourself and finding who you really are. This is just as applicable to college students as it is to an eighth grader. We never stop trying to find out who we are, or what our place is, and that makes for a beautifully poignant film.
Eighth Grade is an excellently done coming-of-age film that will probably go under the radar, but shouldn’t. The realism that it portrays isn’t present in a lot of movies that are released these days. It is a breath of fresh air that lets the audience – no matter age, race, or gender – relate to and learn from a 13-year-old girl who has wisdom way beyond her years, whether or not she realizes it.
You can see Eighth Grade at Parmer Cinema on Friday, December 7 at 6 and 9 p.m. and Saturday the 8th at 3, 6 and 9 p.m.
Image retrieved from philly.com