My Favorite Movies – Eighth Grade (2018)

23 May

By Tanner Smith

Here’s a film from a couple of years ago that I did not want to see, that I didn’t expect to see again (or even WANT to see again), and that I DEFINITELY didn’t expect to call it one of my new favorites!……And yet here we are.

A film about the hardships and awkwardness of experiencing eighth grade (even if it’s just from one eighth grader’s perspective) did not sound like my cup of tea. (I didn’t care if critics were praising it across the nation—critics also praised the well-crafted yet utterly miserable “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” a film about a shy 7th grade outcast.) My reason for this—I don’t have many fond memories of eighth grade, especially after a terrible seventh grade year (Though, that’s not to say there weren’t bright spots here or there.) Any film that effectively captures what it’s like to be an outcast in junior high school is not going to appeal to me.

Why do you think there are more movies about high-schoolers than middle-schoolers? Because who wants to remember what middle school was like??

But I’m glad I took a chance on this film: Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade.

Many of us remember what it was like to be 13-14 years old. Even if we were popular in school, we still faced many a challenge within ourselves and within our social circles, such as going through puberty, finding our sexual identities, maintaining particular images for people, and other awkward, confusing aspects that come with the age. We went through hard enough times when we were alone—add school to it, and it makes things even more uncomfortable!

We know this. We went through it. And even though things are far different now (thanks to social media) than they were, say, 15 years ago, that doesn’t matter because today’s eighth-graders still go through it. Do I have to bring it up? Yes, for this reason—”Eighth Grade” is a sweet, intelligent, sometimes-funny, sometimes-unsettling, always-accurate slice of life that I think today’s eighth-graders will gain a lot of insight from in order to feel better about themselves. (Forget the “R” rating—this film was made for the teens who need it!)

But what would adults get out of it? Well, why did standup comedian Bo Burnham make it to begin with? Because he often suffered panic attacks before performances and wanted to create a story that dealt with anxiety. He chose the eighth-grade setting because he considers it a crucial period of self-awareness. He said in a Huffington Post interview, “I wanted to talk about anxiety and what it feels like to be alive right now, and what it is to be unsure and nervous. That felt more like middle school than high school to me. I think the country and the culture is going through an eighth-grade moment right now.”

What did I get out of it myself? Why do I avoid “Welcome to the Dollhouse” like the plague and yet hold a special place in my heart for “Eighth Grade?” Because as honest and uncomfortable as “Eighth Grade” can be, it comes from a place of both love and hope. After this film’s end, I get the feeling that while Kayla (wonderfully played by Elsie Fisher) will still suffer anxiety attacks as time goes on and she gets older, she will not only overcome them but she will never be alone. I think she’s going to be OK.

My favorite scene: as much as I love the speech made by Kayla’s father (Josh Hamilton) near the end of the film (it’s a great “father” speech that reminded me of a similar one in Call Me By Your Name), my favorite scene is one that takes us right in the middle of Kayla’s anxiety, as she nervously enters the pool party and is unsure about what to do next.

Really good stuff here.

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