Eighth Grade

What was eighth grade like for you? Sweaty palms and horrible class photos and nerve-racking social encounters? A bad haircut, perhaps? An unrequited crush? Does anyone ever feel cool in the eighth grade? Is that even possible?

Kayla does not. She’s wading miserably through her last week of the eighth grade, friendless and sort of petrified, living a double life. At home she creates Youtube content teaching others to be confident like she is – although at school, of course, she is not. She knows classmates would describe her as quiet if they describe her at all, but that’s not how she feels inside, even if she can never quite communicate this gregarious alter ego to anyone, ever.

Kayla is portrayed by Elsie Fisher, who is so good and so talented she’ll take you right back to your eighth grade shoes. And boy are they awkward shoes. But it takes great MV5BZDYxZWY4NjQtYzM2Ni00YmE0LTlmZDItNTZlZGMwYWVkZWI0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_wells of courage in an actor to be as vulnerable as she is up on that screen, so raw and real that we are instantly transported to our own childhoods. And Fisher is indeed a very young woman herself, (otherwise best known as the voice of Agnes from Despicable Me, for which she improvised that delightful little tune about unicorns) which makes it even more impressive that straight out of the box, she’s amazing and transcendent.

Eighth Grade is about that tender age, around 13, when kids are transitioning to young adults. To when everything feels big and important and all-consuming. When a spot of unhappiness feels like it might last forever. But in reality, things are changing so fast, and life is lobbing surprise after surprise, and it’s really only in the looking back that we can pinpoint all these little episodes that helped make us who we are. The Eighth Grade itself probably felt like it went on for decades, but it’s something we all have in common, and it’s the reason like someone like Bo Burnham, who as you might have guessed is a man, can still relate so well that he’s made a pretty accurate account of that time in a young person’s life. And even if Elsie has slightly different trappings: iPhones and Instagram and FMO, her base desires and fears and neuroses are universal.

Elsie is a brilliant character. Despite her social failures, she is sweet and smart and resilient. We see ourselves in her, but we also want to befriend her, mother her. She is the sun and we orbit around her, experiencing her different angles until all are exhausted and all we want is to hug her, to tell her it gets better.

We didn’t all have the same voyeuristic roommate at University, we didn’t all have the same embezzling first boss, we don’t all have dads who are dentists/truck enthusiasts, but we were all knobs in the 8th grade. Bo Burnham has captured this gracefully in this feature; Eighth Grade is a movie for all of us. Except, of course, for eighth graders themselves, who can only watch a movie about themselves when they are old enough to take it. Yeah, let’s just sit with that one for a minute. This movie is rated R, for language, for some teen drug and alcohol use, and some sexual material. All things the typical 8th grader will encounter in their every day lives but cannot be trusted to witness in movies. Which is kind of fucked up. So if nothing else, this movie reminds us all how hard it is to be that age, to be in tricky situations that we aren’t really prepared for, to have the burden of expectation without the benefit of experience. If you know an eighth grader, this movie will have you wanting to cut them just a little extra slack. Life is hard. Kindness costs nothing. Set a good example.

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24 thoughts on “Eighth Grade

  1. Film4Fan

    Bo Burnham is one of my favorite comedians, so I was really excited for “Eight Grade” but to my disappointment, it won’t be released in Belgium. Hopefully, the Blu-Ray will be released in the coming months, so I can watch it as soon as possible 🙂

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    1. Jay Post author

      Oh that’s too bad, I’m sorry you have to miss it. But it’s the kind of movie that will translate very well to DVD and it’ll be a nice little gift to yourself in a few months.

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  2. floatinggold

    What a sweet ending to a review.
    When I hear about such movies, I think of how lucky I am to have had a decent run through my school years. Things weren’t always perfect, but I managed to avoid most of the average trepidation of those years.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, I lucked out too. And of course, looking back, we remember the best of times. But in the moment, it feels really hard to be a kid, especially on the cusp of things. So not only did this movie remind me of my own childhood, it made me want to really respect the kids that I know.

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  3. indiefan20

    I’ve heard nothing but good things about this movie, it definitely sounds like something I’ll want to watch when it comes out. I didn’t have to deal with a lot of the things other thirteen-year-olds do when I was that age because I was homeschooled, but boy did I have a lot of angst. Terrific review, one of the best I’ve seen from you in a long time. Keep up the good work! 🙂

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    1. Jay Post author

      It seems to be coming out in funny stages, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for – it could even get one of those surprise Oscar noms, like The Big Sick.

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  4. Liz A.

    Ah, 8th grade… You know, 8th graders are evil. Get in a room with all of them and one of you… Evil, I tell you. (I’ve had many, many opportunities to see them amongst themselves.)

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    1. Jay Post author

      Haha, that’s the way to do it!
      I found it adequate to simply set fire to all my mother’s photo albums from those years.

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  5. peggyatthemovies

    I loved this movie so much. Elsie Fisher is brilliant. She did a post with Bo and she clocked the moderator hard on some things he said, so she REALLY has my vote because she was so bright. I think so much is in store for her. 🙂

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    1. Jay Post author

      That’s really great to hear. She’s already got an impressive resume, but I think her performance in this alone is so extraordinary – to be that young and putting out stuff this fearless and raw – wow!

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  6. Jay Post author

    Opens:
    July 20th – Toronto
    July 27th – Vancouver, Montreal
    August 3rd – Halifax, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton

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  7. Grace Reed

    I found out about this movie listening to a podcast with Bo Burnham last week. As soon as I saw the trailer I knew I needed to check it out as soon as it was playing near me. So glad to see this movie is doing well. Thanks for another great post!

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  8. StephLove

    Beth and I saw this last weekend. It was excellent. I was thinking about the exact point you made about the rating and the irony that many parents (me included!) wouldn’t consider taking their kids around that age (we invited the rising 12th grader but not the rising 7th grader) even though it’s about their lives. My kid is two years from the end of 8th grade, though, and two years is a long time in kids’ lives. I still don’t think I’d take North.

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  9. Pingback: Crazy Rich Asians | ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

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