Eighth Grade (R)

I actually wrote a review for Eighth Grade dated July 19, 2018 and failed to post it at the time. I couldn’t quite make up my mind how I felt about this movie. Since it is being talked about as being “snubbed” by the Oscars and nominated for other awards this season, I figured, why not post it (with a few revisions, of course)?

Written and directed by Bo Burnham and starring Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade tells the story of 14 year old Kayla’s transition from the last week of middle school into high school. Middle school has been uneventful and Kayla is holding out hope that things will improve.

The acting is strong. Elsie Fisher does a great job expressing the pain in Kayla’s life. The direction and cinematography allows the audience a birds eye view into Kayla’s world. At times you feel you are walking in Kayla’s shoes.

I’m going to put a spoiler alert ahead of what’s coming because I need to talk about some things with a bit more in-detail than usual.

The thing that makes this movie great is also the thing that makes it meh. Bear with me…

There is nothing fantastic about this movie. It is very typical, slice of life stuff. But somehow, Burnham managed to create this element of urgency and suspense, reminding me of all the reckless things I did in my youth and how those things could have gone horribly wrong (and some of them did!). I was a smart kid, which doesn’t mean I didn’t do stupid things or put myself in precarious situations, but I managed to dodge doing any serious, permanent damage to myself. Watching Eighth Grade, I wondered if Kayla would be as fortunate, as she attempts to navigate the road from childhood to young adult. Like most teens, in her quest for autonomy, Kayla doesn’t make the best decisions.

Kayla’s got a multitude of issues. She doesn’t fit in, struggles to form friendships, appears to have body image issues, she’s got identity issues (Dear God, that blog!) she’s got acne, etc. – all the basics for angst in many teen girls. She was neither shunned, nor bullied by her peers. It was almost worse than that. She was completely ignored and operated as though she were invisible. Just how far would she go to be noticed?

On top of that, her mom was gone and she was being raised by a clueless single dad who loved her, but had no idea how to talk to her, what to say or what to do. As Kayla is trying to find her way, so is her father. He is trying to care for her the best way he knows how, falling short regularly. They are two people, stumbling through life, with no right or wrong answers and no directions or assistance. My real problem with this is that they both should have been in counseling, particularly Kayla, to deal with her mother leaving (it’s never clear whether she left or “abandoned” Kayla), and her nearly crippling social anxiety.

In lieu of friends to talk to, Kayla choses to create these ridiculous YouTube videos where she pretends to be cool and popular, and a person with something to say. I don’t even know if anyone watched the videos since she had no friends. I’m not sure if this was meant to be sad or therapeutic, or if it was just a device Kayla used to communicate where she felt she had no other outlet for her voice. Oh, and Kayla’s speech pattern while filming these videos is cringe-worthy. I know she’s just a kid, but please learn to speak properly, in full, concise sentences. And be your authentic self. Those scenes nearly gave me a headache each time.

My greatest problem with Eighth Grade is that while Burnham is given credit for writing a story about a girl, all of Kayla’s angst and woes were chalked up to some type of phase that she seemed to just grow out of – sort of minimizing her feelings, just like a man who would write a story about a teenage girl coming of age might do. You know? Everything is an immediate, urgent, emergency when one is a teenager. I get it. But Kayla’s issues seemed more severe than the average teen angst I’ve experienced and/or witnessed.  That neediness in her for friends, acceptance, companionship, popularity isn’t going to just going away on its own because a few weeks went by. (Don’t know if you’ve read my “Welcome” page, but I have a master’s degree in school psychology and have worked with all types of children with all types of troubles, so I’m qualified to make that statement, based on what I’ve seen, thankyouverymuch.)

Eighth Grade earned 7 out of 10 bloops. It is a good movie that is worth seeing. When you consider that this is a coming of age movie about a 14-year-old girl written by a 27-year-old man, one must admit Burnham did a fine job. If no one mentioned him, one might never suspect this script was not developed by a woman. It is relatable on a basic level, despite race or class or economic standing. It is suspenseful and although I was nothing like Kayla in eighth grade, it transported me back to 8th grade in an uncomfortable kind of way. If you weren’t that outcast, shy, kid, you certainly remember that kid. If nothing else, Eighth grade is a reminder to be kind and a great way to open dialogue between parents/guardians and youth about growing up, peer pressure, self-esteem, bullying, etc.

Thank you for reading. You can scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page, hit the “follow” button and enter your email address to subscribe to bloopbymimi, and never miss a review; or you can follow me on twitter (which I must get more savvy with and active on!) @bloopbymimi1

 Bloops:

1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6   =   not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

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