Bo Burnham for A24/94 min.
I think most reviewers have already written about how this movie can transport the viewer right back into their middle-school years, and that’s true. There are plenty of shots of Kayla, our eighth-grade protagonist, with chipped blue nail polish, Avril Lavigne-esque eyeliner, and pre-Proactive acne. There are shots of awkward kids that are straight out of a John Hughes movie. Eighth Grade really digs its heels into the awkwardness of middle school and gets comfortable. And that’s what makes the emotional execution of this film so well done.
But let’s talk about watching this movie from the perspective of someone on the precipice of their ten-year high-school reunion. Something changed for me as a moviegoer in the past two years. I’ve started watching movies armed with the viewpoint of someone considering what it’s like to be a parent. I’m not one yet, but I am a working adult with more distance from childhood than to parenthood, and that’s really affected how I view not just re-watches of teen favorites (I’m looking at you, She’s All That), but also coming-of-age movies of today.
I share this with you because I’m still thinking about this movie days later, and truthfully, I think it will stick with me for a long time—and it’s not just because of the accuracy in which Bo Burnham portrays the overwhelming angst of being thirteen. It’s because of Kayla’s relationship to her smartphone. I now can’t stop thinking about the role that technology currently plays in our daily lives. I got my first cell phone at about Kayla’s age in the movie—and the most advanced thing it offered was the game “snake”. Kayla, on the other hand, got her first Snapchat account in fifth grade. There’s a scene in which she nervously approaches the “cool girls”… and they’re just as aloof as they’ve been since cool girls have been in existence, but in this case, they never look up from their phones. They looked like little zombies. Many nights, Kayla goes home after school only to stare at her phone or laptop until she falls asleep. Alongside “smile more” and “slouch less”, her goal list also includes “like more IGs”. Is it just me or is this incredibly depressing? There have been studies upon studies showing links from social media to anxiety and depression, and that plays out to me very strongly with Kayla. Frankly, the scenes in which she is scrolling endlessly escalated my own anxiety. When put in the hands of a thirteen-year old, a smartphone becomes an obvious coping mechanism for social anxiety.
But it’s not just Kayla and her friends. After I watched this movie, I went to a local brewery with a large group of friends, and there was a moment in the evening that I looked around to find every single person engaged with their smartphone.
-There’s a haunting scene in which Kayla’s class goes through a school-shooting drill. It’s devastating that this is a very real issue for today’s students and I’m glad that they made the decision to include this.
-A24’s involvement in this made me excited for the upcoming HBO project Euphoria. I look forward to seeing any similarities.
-Josh Hamilton’s portrayal of Kayla’s single father was a standout performance.
-Every single detail was pitch perfect–from the woke high school mentor to the hypothetical conversations that Kayla practices in her bathroom. In my opinion, Bo Burnham deserves an Oscar for this film. I was very pleasantly surprised, as I’m not a huge fan of his comedic performances and was unsure which notes this film would hit.
-One of my favorite scenes of any movie this year was Kayla’s date with Gabe. As the kids say, “all the feels!”