REVIEW: Eighth Grade

Ahh, the start of 2019; another year of adulthood… and what do you know, I’m back in eighth grade!

In her last week of eighth grade, introverted YouTuber, Kayla, enters a new grey area of youth that begins to heavily impact her ever-morphing identity.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: coming-of-age films are my favourite genre of filmmaking. There’s something about the nostalgia factor of observing that time period that every single person alive went through of transitioning from childhood to adulthood that remains transfixing and allusive. I know for a fact that the works of John Hughes in the 1980s greatly influenced me as the coming-of-age masterpieces his films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club were as they equally have played a part in shaping the genre for modern cinema as well. Although, if anything, I feel the light-heartedness of those movies and the projects they have inspired, have left an unrelenting fantastical awe on the genre. Films about growing up that incorporate the dreamy, romanticised concept of youth are extremely welcome for their ability to capture the fantasies of childhood alongside the seriousness and anxious nature of it all. Yet, it’s always a genius turnover when a coming-of-age film will take an almost completely stripped down, ‘down-to-Earth’ approach for which stays loyal to real life teenage experience to a T. Eighth Grade was a film that so attractively portrayed life as a teenager in eighth grade without the greater fantasy or the romanticism to add a glossy layer to its proceedings. Eighth Grade imbued a certain rawness to its narrative, refusing a Hollywood-ised layout in favour of an unwavering and unrelenting observation on reality.

(A24, 2018)

I loved Eighth Grade but equally hated it… but not in the way you would think. I loved the film and hated it for the same exact reason: it was SO real. Watching this film wasn’t even like I was watching a film but instead peering through some kind of time vortex at my own experiences in eighth grade – both the good and the bad. Whenever the protagonist of Kayla found pleasure in an experience, I could feel the exact same thing, because at one stage, during eighth grade, I felt the exact same pleasure. Whenever Kayla would find herself uncomfortable, I too, would feel the exact same inability to feel settled, because I, at one stage during eighth grade, felt the same uncomfortableness. Whenever Kayla would do something childish and extremely cringey, I too would have my feet curl up and feel nauseous because in eighth grade I also had many moments of being childish and extremely cringey around other people. I hated Eighth Grade because, for the most half, I spent the film with my face buried in my hands. I did this because Eighth Grade did not feel like a traditional film to me but an unshakable memory that, for years now, I have forced myself to relive time and time again, over and over in my own head. And yet, at the same time, I loved Eighth Grade and considered it a perfect cinema experience, because it managed to flawlessly capture the one thing that filmmakers and artists have tried to express for generations now – that being, the human condition.

Eighth Grade understood entirely what its like for children coming of age in these modern times with the influence of the internet especially warping children’s perceptions of how to properly mature. Teen angst ran wild in Bo Burnham’s coming-of-age feature as the film encapsulated the joy, anger, sadness, disgust and fear of growing older. Eighth Grade managed to show audiences the horrors of what its like to develop but also the brightness that emerges from youthful fragility and uncertainty. The yearning for one to fit in and feel wanted and needed by others but also stand as a singular, powerful figure really shined through in Eighth Grade. This film managed to show truths behind humanity that not many other features have succeeded in unravelling – especially truths in youth and, in particular, how technology has come to shape the young.

Eighth Grade never shied away from utilising platforms like Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube to show the true effects of how said sites have come to reboot the way coming of age occurs in the realms of modernity. The lie of social media comes in our ability to be expressive and amplify our personalities on a platform that promotes social unity and acceptance, but furtherly separates us and disgraces us from what is real. The power to shut ourselves out from truth and relax into a more comfortable, artificial lie has severed our ability to enact the romanticism of yesteryear – to be your common Breakfast club or Ferris Bueller. Therefore, I felt the uncomfortable nature of Eighth Grade was not only meant to evoke nostalgia of the horrific real but also to remind audiences how whatever fantastical era of coming-of-age John Hughes influenced in cinema is no longer real. The internet has seemingly consumed the youth, boosting a sense of angst and depression in the way we act – removing the adventuress nature of the past and pushing us towards an artificial, unknown future…

… but let’s not fret about that too heavily.

Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade may have been a commentary on how the internet is changing our youth but its also just a well-done observation of the forgotten or repressed moments in childhood that make us who we are as adults. Eighth Grade slightly reminded me of Boyhood, if Boyhood was called Girlhood and existed over the course of a week rather than a decade. Eighth Grade never highlighted larger key events in the life of Kayla but instead simply observed smaller moments such as calling her dad to leave a crowded pool party or looking up on YouTube what certain sexual innuendos mean or being invited out to hang with new friends for the first time. Eighth Grade utilised its screen time to capture the essence of eighth grade rather than strictly showing us some fun romcom romp. If anything, Eighth Grade was more an atmosphere piece than just a flick with the core purpose to entertain – Burnham’s newest effort was made to absorb the viewer and remind one of a distant feeling.

The best way I could describe Eighth Grade would be via the feeling you get when a song from your youth, for which you completely forgot about, randomly resurfaces on the radio one day and you’re hit with a bout of nostalgia because it allows you to access a forgotten or repressed feeling or memory. Eighth Grade was like when your mum buys a new soap from grocery shopping and as soon as you sniff it, you jumpcut back to a time you cannot particularly pinpoint but have a nostalgic attachment to. Eighth Grade was like that feeling we all get when something forces us to think nostalgically. Eighth Grade was a sentimental film because it never shied away from what truly occurs in our youth, no matter how uncomfortable it may be for us to recall.

And not only was this film a success from the talent behind the camera from writer, director, Bo Burnham, but also the film’s lead, Elsie Fisher who was genuinely incredible and a star in the making. Not to sound harsh, but I liked the normality of her look – the fact she appeared like a normal girl and not dolled up to suit Hollywood standards. The filmmakers showed her pimples, her redness and her slouchy posture and never tried to make her and her character appear unrealistic. Fisher literally embodied every natural tick of teenage life – she was perfect in this film and produced a better performance than most adult actors last year in 2018.

So, what a start to 2019 I have had with Eighth Grade. Despite this film technically being a 2018 feature, to actually think the year has begun with the release of a near perfect film like this one only fuels my hunger for a better year in cinema. Eighth Grade was one of those rare films where I felt the Rotten Tomatoes score to be a perfect fit; 99%, with the ability to even sit at 100%, Bo Burnham’s newest feature was a genius change in pace from other coming-of-age features whilst managing to stay truer to the genre than any film previously.

Eighth Grade is, in fact… LOST ART


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