Eighth Grade (2018): Part 2 of 2
Director: Bo Burnham
Writer: Bo Burnham
Cinematographer: Andrew Wehde
Producer: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Lila Yacoub, and Christopher Storer
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
It’s clear by this point that the film is going to provide a series of these moments, anxiously anticipating where else the story could go. Sure enough, the next week there’s a school shooting exercise, in which theater kids dress up with gunshots to their head, while a police officer walks around in tactical gear and an unloaded assault rifle, mimicking a mass shooting. In the classroom, as the lights turn off and the students get under their desk, Kayla works up the courage to crawl over to Aiden and strike up a conversation; having heard earlier that he enjoys dirty photos. In another skin crawling scene, Kayla lies about having dirty photos, leading Aiden to ask whether she gives blow jobs, which Kayla says she does, then heading home to research what a blow job is; going straight to Youtube where she learns all the fluid details, moving onto a banana, which while one of the easier scenes of the film, nevertheless provides another great conclusion when her dad comes home early.
With days left, the eighth graders are invited to shadow some high schoolers. Kayla meets senior Olivia (Emily Robinson) who’s friendly and excited to show Kayla around and introduce her to all her friends. By this point, I had grown so bitter about teenagers that I figured it was all a ruse and yet it kept going well. Olivia gives Kayla her number, and believing she’s finally made a friend, Kayla gives her call and Burnham comes out of left field with an onion cutting scene as Olivia invites Kayla to the mall and she attempts to conceal her excitement.
Her dad drops her off and again Burnham nails the dynamic, as Olivia and her fellow seniors gossip and discuss all things impossible for Kayla to follow, who offers little more than a few words and a genuine smile; simply happy that she’s hanging out with people. Of course, while not a ruse, it proves all too good to be true, as when Olivia is dropped off first, her male high school friend parks the car on the way to Kayla’s house, getting out and hopping into the back, inquiring as to how far Kayla’s gone with a boy, and whether she’d like for him to show her some things. The scene is brilliant in leaving us wondering whether Kayla will give in for the sake of fitting in and not losing her friends, or whether she speaks up and rejects him. Fortunately, she does the latter, forcefully saying no, immediately apologizing and realizing it cost her the friendship. The complexity is that for as much as we celebrate her willingness to stand up, we also empathize with disappointment, or even possible regret.
Back home, Kayla makes a final video, declaring that she’s done vlogging; later removing the Spongebob toy she found in her time capsule; removing the top half and revealing a thumb drive which contains a video she shot years earlier in which her sixth grade self offers hope that she had an amazing experience in sixth grade, maybe even getting a boyfriend.
Again, the memories of that time came flooding back, as I recalled the idealism of entering a new school, hoping that I might meet a girl or go to a bunch of wild parties and live the experience I had so often seen on television. Just as eighth grade ended with disappointment, high school - while containing some rich experiences - was far more limited than expected, and college followed more or less the same track. I immediately want to say that, looking back, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, and yet when I watched Bo Burnham on Jimmy Kimmel, he mentioned that we have a tendency to romanticize that period when, in fact, it actually was, many times, a difficult and disappointing experience.
Kayla asks her dad to light a fire so that she can burn the age box, apologizing for being the way she is. So begins a monologue from the dad that reminded me of Michael Stuhlbarg’s speech in Call Me By Your Name (2017), in that it was about a third longer than it needed to be, as he breaks down how proud he is of his daughter and the fact that she’s able to do so much without him. In one of the more enlightening explanations of parenting, he mentions how scared he was of being a good single parent, realizing that she was developing and maturing all without his help; and that he simply got to sit back, watch, and offer his general guidance, making Kayla’s complete disinterest in their relationship all the more heartbreaking.
At graduation, Kayla works up the courage to confront Kennedy, refusing to make eye contact and struggling to find the words to properly tell her off, but getting her point across. All she tries to be is nice and there’s no reason that Kennedy has to be so mean; providing one of the most satisfying bully confrontations that I’ve seen in years. Kayla makes another video, explaining to her audience about how she’s always nervous, feeling as though she’s about to get onto a roller coaster, except the feeling never stops. In another interview, Burnham mentions how the film was his attempt to explore his own anxieties, and so while I didn’t think the scene was absolutely necessary (as for all the outcasts who aren’t struggling with the disorder, it felt a bit alienating; that is, if they don’t have anxiety, is it their fault at that point?) I also respect and admire Burnham's ability to take his personal experiences and apply it to such a unique world.
The closing scene has Kayla ending up at Gabes, providing one of the most hilarious moments of the film, as again, Jake Ryan somehow is able to create a character that feels like an awkward 40-year old man trapped in the boy of an eighth grader; making me thrilled for what else this kid will go on to do.
It’s a film that took me back to a period that is far too easy to idealize; in which the memories came rushing back; of searching for a place to fit and the disappointment of those struggles seems to never end. Burnham achieved the miraculous; of being able to use words, images, and sounds to capture moments of the past which we can all share. It’s a film about a time we all go through that’s unlike anything I’ve seen.
BELOW: Some of the most authentic teen dialogue I've ever heard; back when years difference felt like decades
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