CineMaierson: “Eighth Grade” Review


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Bo Burnham’s film premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

Equipped with barely functioning eyes, a laptop and no experience whatsoever, Senior Assignments Editor Eli Maierson reviews the latest the theater has to offer in “CineMaierson.” In this special review, Eli also speaks with freshmen about how the film “Eighth Grade” accurately represents life at that age. 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of the greatest teen movies ever made. In this humble critic’s opinion, it is pure innocence and hedonism; even adults can’t resist its carefree attitude. Eighth Grade, however, seems destined to become the anti-John Hughes film. The struggles protagonist Kayla Day must endure are brutal.

Although Kayla (an innocent and convincing Elsie Fisher) hides it from her YouTube channel, she is stuck in a rut. She struggles to make friends and talk at school, earning her the superlative award of “Most Quiet.” The film follows Kayla throughout her final week of middle school.

Director Bo Burnham is a ruthless creator, unafraid to portray middle school as a sinister and evil place. At a pool party that Kayla is unintentionally invited to, the students are like wild animals. As they splash and scream with each other, I am reminded of the twisted and ritualistic ending of Rosemary’s Baby. One girl is even bent over backwards in an Exorcist-like pose.

I appreciate Burnham’s approach to depicting social media. He exposes the harm it can cause to an anxious teen and the “fakeness” that governs it, but he isn’t preachy with his message. He clearly is not a fan of social media, but doesn’t completely write it off as childish nonsense either.

The hellhole Kayla inhabits exists beyond her crippling neuroticism, social media usage and monstrous classmates. Her school holds a practice school shooting drill. Most male characters are horny little demons. Her dad can’t relate to her. These realities may scare parents in the audience but will be recognizable to most teenage audience members.

Kayla’s school isn’t just a nightmare, but a cringey one at that. Teachers dab. Kayla ends all of her inspirational vlogs with the sign-off, “Gucci!” These moments come off as humorous but add up to a larger message: does anyone actually “get” middle school? Is any character truly succeeding? Perhaps middle school is just a state of transition from childish naiveté to confident adulthood. That seems to be the way Burnham, and I, view it.

The soundtrack of Eighth Grade is an overwhelming cacophony. Pounding, synth-heavy beats slam through the hallways of her middle school as Kayla keeps her head down and her mouth shut. The music creates a mind-bending edge in some scenes.

Burnham excels at manipulating space to convey Kayla’s isolation, especially from her futile father (a meek Josh Hamilton). The family is rarely together; even at meals, Kayla sits far away from her dad, sucked into her world of social media. There are only a couple meaningful moments between them, but they pack quite the emotional punch.

Finally, a movie about teenagers with actual teenage actors. The age of the actors brings an enormous sense of realism to the movie; they actually look their age. Hopefully, this movie will bring about a change in casting, emphasizing realism over perceived good looks or the fame of the performer. (I’m looking at you, Andrew Garfield. You can’t be Spider-Man when you’re 30.)

Burnham assembles these many elements of teen life to create a shocking and admirable realism. He perfectly encapsulates the huge gap between the bold, heartless popular kids and the kinder, softer ones. Fisher’s performance is a fantastic embodiment of the latter.

Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of the film is its rating. Slapped with a hard R for some language and sexual material, the MPAA may turn many potential viewers away from this movie. Still, I highly encourage all teens (and parents of teens) to view it.

Eighth Grade is a tough film to categorize by genre. It is as tense as A Quiet Place, as cringey as The Emoji Movie (but for all the right reasons) and as bittersweet as Lady Bird. This movie is an emotional rollercoaster that plummets for over an hour until closure is obtained, and the audience is along for the whole ride.

I am still shocked at the brilliance of Eighth Grade. Every awkward interaction between Kayla and her dad, every social interaction that feels like a life-or-death scenario, everyone trying to take advantage of Kayla’s innocence—this movie will flood you with horrid nostalgia, empathy, tears, laughs and finally relief.

If you need another reason to see this movie, keep this in mind: Molly Ringwald, the star of many great teen movies from the 1980s, called the film “the best film about adolescence I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe ever.” Take her word for it, and go see Eighth Grade.

Rating: 5/5

P.S.: Bo Burnham is one of the most knowledgeable and self-aware Internet users I’ve ever encountered. I highly recommend watching his appearance on the H3 Podcast on YouTube (NSFW).