A review of "Eighth Grade", the recently released film written and directed by Bo Burnham
"I forgot how much acne eighth graders have."
This was one of my initial thoughts as the first scene of Bo Burnham's "Eighth Grade" began to unfold. The movie opens with the main character filming a YouTube video, and I reluctantly cringed, wondering if the whole movie was going to be an exaggerated telling of how different childhood is now that technology plays such an active role in the lives of young people. But, I placed my trust in Bo Burnham and A24, and I continued watching.
I quickly made note of how awkward and genuine Kayla, the main character, appeared. So often in movies or shows about young people, kids suddenly state facts about life that no real children would ever be able to develop on their own. This movie was a much rawer depiction of youth than anything I normally come across. Kayla looked like a real girl, with imperfect makeup, flawed skin, and a simple graphic tee. She stumbled over her words and uncomfortably looked away from the camera periodically as a normal, insecure middle schooler would. I appreciated the authenticity.
As the movie continued, I slowly felt myself slipping deep into the memories of what it was like to be in middle school. As Bo Burnham put it in a recent interview with IndieWire, "a regular day to an eighth-grader feels like life and death," and that exact feeling is what he captures with Kayla's character. Nothing that an adult would consider particularly life-shattering happened to Kayla over the course of the film, but each scene had me on the edge of my seat empathizing with the struggles Kayla was facing in everyday life.
The film also included an exposing portrayal of anxiety, and, while it was never explicitly stated in the film, Kayla appears to have what may be the onset of an anxiety disorder. She speaks about her uncontrollable "nervousness" in one of her many YouTube videos, divulging her frustrations on camera and reframing the idea of the "quiet kid" she is often perceived as. This aspect of the film adds a certain complexity, and it reveals with startling honesty and accuracy the hidden strife that can complicate the social growth of someone of Kayla's age.
There are undoubtedly hundreds of cinematic depictions of middle school life, and this film does not deviate far from those stories. The main element that separates this film from others like it is that it is simple, and, in its simplicity, unprecedentedly sincere. "Eighth Grade" is only about an hour and a half long, but that hour and a half points towards basic truths that apply to adults and children alike in one way or another. Elsie Fisher, the actress who plays Kayla, perfectly summed up one such truth in an interview with IndieWire when she said the film is intended to communicate that "you should just be yourself because everything sucks." In the same interview, Bo Burnham points out a parallel theme that the movie conveys perfectly: "how intense small things are." This movie is simple and yet very communicative and thought out, and I highly recommend it to anyone as a quick, heart-wrenching watch.