A couple months ago when I first started this film review blog, one of the first movies I reviewed was last year’s sleeper hit Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig. I made the argument that, after seeing that film, I was no longer a complete stan for mumblecore films about white people (an oxymoron, I know). But now, after having seen Eighth Grade, I can say that, no matter what, I’ll always be a Mumblecore Ho™.
Usually when I start a review, I’ll give myself a couple days to really process a film, but I can’t really do that with Eighth Grade. Something about it really struck a chord with me and I found myself laughing really hard and also tearing up with empathy. This film, written and directed by Bo Burnham, manages to expertly capture the sheer anxiety of pubescence and of being a teenager. Starring Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton, whose performances completely stole the film, Eighth Grade simply follows the life of eighth-grader Kayla in her last weeks of middle school before transitioning to high school. She’s awkward and lonely; she makes advice videos on Youtube and loves social media like anyone else; she wants a boyfriend and finds her bumbling dad annoying.
- spoilers ahead but not really? -
In the film, Kayla doesn’t have many friends but gets backhandedly invited to a popular girl’s pool party. There is a scene in which she locks herself in the bathroom out of fear and, like many following scenes, Burnham manages to depict anxiety in such a chillingly relatable way (along the same veins as the British classic My Mad Fat Diary). The bubble gum pop score punctuates the teen-ness of the story but the moments of weaponized silence are breathtakingly impactful. The film’s greatest quality is its specificity and that absolutely stems down from and to its dialogue; the “hey guys, welcome to my channel… don’t forget to s-subscribe and comment and whatever” and the delivery of said line is just *mwah* perfection. And similarly, a certain monologue delivered by the father later in the film had me tearing up like a fucking eighth-grader.
What I love most about some of my favorite coming-of-age films, and of the genre in general, is the beautiful blend of childhood and adulthood themes. They capture the unsure quality of living in a limbo that I find myself perpetually in a state in. With Eighth Grade, Burnham uses both comedy and drama to touch on both of these subjects, using humor to relay the comical moments of retroactive middle school life and suspense to tackle the sobering adult-like moments that Kayla begins to experience. The climax of the film will absolutely hold your entire attention and will have the audience collectively holding their breath.
I think it's important to take a moment to talk about the fact that this movie is R-rated. The Motion Picture Association of America has a fucking huge history of handing out unfair ratings willy nilly, ruining the chances of some of the greatest movies from getting the recognition or audience turnout they deserve (see: Boys Don’t Cry and This Film Is Not Yet Rated). In defense of Eighth Grade, there is virtually nothing in it that warrants an R-rating in my opinion, and if there is, it’s definitely nothing compared to other/worse PG-13 movies. That was my tip-of-the-iceberg spiel about why the ratings system is stupid and if you want a full-fledged conversation about it, slide into my DMs. I just really wish actual middle-schoolers could watch this very endearing movie.
Ratings aside, I think many people will enjoy this film. It’s absolutely about a Generation Z kid born in at least 2005, but I kept double-checking that I myself wasn’t also still in middle school with the number of times I found myself internally screaming at all the #relatable moments. From the Tumblr fandom scrolling to the Buzzfeed quizzes to the damn K-Pop videos, I was like, “Is this ME?” But also, even though she's white, Kayla reminded me of so many people from high school, in composure and body language to speech and style. At the same time, one of the other characters in the film named Gabe, who’s nerdy and goofy but kind, his awkward mannerisms reminded me almost exactly of my younger 16 year old brother. I say all this to say that while Eighth Grade is extremely specific in generation and era, it’s the kind of coming-of-age story that is also simply universally relatable.