Well friends, it’s time for another installment, of “Thank goodness A24 made that movie because no one else would.” After watching and loving Eighth Grade at Sundance, Brooke had to wait half a year for her good pals and favorite companions in lengthy cinematic discussion to see it. Now they have and we’re all assembled to chatter all about Bo Burnham’s devastatingly accurate, big-hearted portrait of life as a 13-year-old girl — we don’t know how he did it, but what we wouldn’t have given for such a movie when we were young.
AM, Shannon, before we do anything else, let’s hear from the pair of you how Eighth Grade stood up against Brooke’s aggressive hype cycle, and why it earned its place on our highly selective* list of essential viewing.
A: I had also heard from our good friend Rebs (HI REBS) that this was the most awkward thing she’d ever seen. I remember vividly how awkward and awful middle school was, so I was bracing for the absolute worst. And this film comes pretty darn close, but I think the cring-y moments are emotionally earned, so I was more nervous-laughter reacting vs watching-through-my-eyes reacting. So yes, the hype about the quality and realness was supes real, and perhaps the hype was also real about how awkward it is.
Shannon, we’ll just assume you also loved this, but tell us more. Also: what stood out as the most relatable thing about our heroine?
S: I L.O.V.E.D. this movie. Loved it. Did I mention I loved it yet? And for so many reasons…but primary among them was this: Eighth Grade was one of the few pieces of pop culture I’ve seen where I related to both the child AND the parent (Stranger Things might be the only other). You see, there’s a threshold that you cross — and I don’t know if it’s due to age or having kids (or both) — when you stop relating to the kids in the story and start relating to the parents. But in Eighth Grade, my heart broke all over that movie — not only because I remember the crippling insecurity that came with being a 14-year-old girl (which is what I found to be most relatable about our heroine), but also because I know the overwhelming anxiety that comes with wanting my kids to be happy. Bo Burnham managed to not only get inside the head of an 8th-grade girl but also somehow perfectly capture the heart of that girl’s parent.
So what about you ladies? What did you find most relatable?
B: I’m still somewhere in between relating to kids versus to relating to parents, perhaps because I don’t have kids, but I’ll second that Eighth Grade is a picture that gives you both sides of the equation very, very clearly. I also see that in Lady Bird, but it’s rare elsewhere. But as to the question at hand, I think Kayla is extremely relatable because she’s not a glamorized, Hollywood-style 13. She’s 13 the way I was 13, and I assume we all were. She’s walking a line between the innocence of childhood and the angst of those tumultuous teen years. She doesn’t have quite the right clothes or the right look. And what seems to come naturally to the popular girl who hosts the pool party just eludes her. Kayla is self-conscious and awkward and not sure how to be the person she’s still becoming. Those middle school days were heady and visceral and they all just come rushing back when you see her run the emotional gauntlet of this movie.
Same question to you, AM. Then let’s get into the scene that hit closest to home for each of us, because I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that Bo Burnham was inside my head at some points.
A: The most intensely relatable scene is when Kayla hand delivers the note to Kennedy, which may or may not be because I’m an Old and didn’t have a cell phone or social media when I was 13, so a lot of the digital scrolling and moviemaking felt like today’s 13-year-old, very real but not what I experienced exactly.
And as we’ve discussed a lot recently, I have historically been known to pass a boy or two a note, so I get the significance of that move. It’s both extremely brave and a bit lazy, a whole lot of agonizingly written content and the desire to just get your feelings out in full. The videos Kayla creates are along the same lines, brave yet cowardly. That’s a lot of what confidence is, though, isn’t it? Pretending to be your best self but perhaps not quite genuinely feeling it until perhaps your inner voice catches up to the outer voice.
I agree that casting actual teenagers makes a world of difference. The awkwardness with which most 13-year-olds carry themselves cannot be faked, and pretty much everyone but our “coolest” of the cool kids is awkward in a way that makes me vividly remember the real-life awkwardness at 13. I’ve said since I was probably 13 that I wouldn’t go back and repeat middle school if you paid me, and this film is a strong reminder of why I feel that way. It’s painful enough the first time.
S, what did you find the most devastating moment?
S: Hands down, the most devastating moment was when Kayla and her dad were sitting in front of the fire (which was burning Kayla’s “hopes and dreams”), and Kayla essentially apologizes to her dad for having to love her. As a parent completely projecting my 2-year-old daughter forward 11 years onto that character, that scene broke my heart. That scene could have been overwrought, with overwritten dialogue and too much “wisdom” from the father figure, but it was written in a way that felt all-too-real, and that’s what ripped my heart in two.
B, your turn!
B: It’s so difficult to choose. The dream-burning and the horrible exchange with the older boy in the car leap to mind, but it’s a quieter moment that I keep coming back to. Early in the picture, there’s an assembly where the class superlatives are announced and we watch Kayla as the “award” for Most Quiet comes up. Already doing her best to be invisible, she shrinks into her seat as if she knows what’s coming. And as the teacher calls her name, Elise Fisher does this amazing thing where you can see the discomfort and embarrassment wash over her entire body. It’s quite a feat of acting, and an excruciatingly familiar sensation for anyone who ever wanted to just disappear.
Okay, friends, we’ve talked about the heartbreakers, let’s talk about the ways Eighth Grade picks up those pieces and glues the soul back together. AM, you’re up.
A: Kayla’s dad is great soul glue, with his earnest dinnertime chats and not-so-sneaky surveillance at the mall. The fire scene is indeed both the worst and the best to watch because I think we’ve all felt that way: How could anyone possibly love us in all our imperfections and annoying habits?
As for more soul glue, how about Kayla’s HS BFF Olivia? I kept waiting for the friendship to be a prank, but I don’t think it was. Olivia genuinely felt like she could help usher Kayla to high school. I wonder if the boy in the car incident will kill this budding friendship, but if it does, it’s a shame. Kayla clearly worships the ground Olivia walks on, and I don’t blame her. She’s got the cool assurance and bubbly personality to make the transition to high school a breeze. She reminds me a lot of the seniors at my high school when I was a freshmen doing the spring musical, and then marching band. They were happy to help with rides and advice, and I totally did the hero worship thing too.
S, tell me about who and what is your soul glue.
S: That chicken nuggets scene. So awkward. So adorable. So amazing. After sitting through the car incident and the fire scene, the chicken nuggets scene was the warm hug I needed. Gabe bringing Kayla all of the sauces is the new Jake Ryan bringing Samantha a cake on the 16th birthday that her family forgot (except that Gabe is nothing like Sixteen Candles‘ Jake Ryan — who is UBER problematic — other than the fact that the actor who plays Gabe is actually named Jake Ryan. It’s come full circle. I’m exhausted).
B, tell us what glued your soul back together.
B: For me, it’s all about that moment where Kayla makes a new video that’s only meant for her future self. That happy veneer that she used to perform for the randoms of the internet is now turned on herself and it couldn’t be sweeter. I love that she’s walked out of the fire of this movie to demand that if future her has a boyfriend, he better treat her right. And further, to pass on the hard-earned wisdom that even if high school wasn’t great, it wasn’t forever, and she’s on to the next thing. We all go through seasons of trials and I think next time I’m feeling a little defeated, I’m going to look back on this moment and take Kayla at her word. Things suck sometimes, and that’s okay, especially when we remember they are temporary.
Alright, we better get to closing thoughts before I straight up propose marriage to Bo Burnham for being the guy who gave us this gift. Anything to add my friends?
A: I think we can all agree that we shouldn’t be so hard on our past or future selves since you know what? If nothing else, we survived middle school.
*according to us
Next time, we’re going from our pre-teen memories to a new reality show starring a woman we’ve dedicated A TON of virtual ink to, who just happened to live her teens and early twenties on-screen, and who is returning to primetime at the head of her own Vanderpump Rules-style series.
Main image: Courtesy A24 Films
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