Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018)

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DarkImbecile
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Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018)

#1 Post by DarkImbecile » Mon Aug 13, 2018 2:07 pm

The hype that has swirled since its Sundance debut around Bo Burnham's Eighth Grade — an intriguing first feature by the comedian and social media star that feels almost anthropological in its eagerness to document teen life in the late 2010s — does it no favors. Despite a strong lead performance by Elsie Fisher and a few grace notes, the film never quite reaches the escape velocity necessary to overcome the overly familiar Sundance dramedy structure.

Fisher's Kayla is a 13-year-old on the cusp of high school, who struggles with rejection by the cool girls, pines after boys with beautiful eyes and no sign yet of being actual human beings, and tries to will herself into self-confidence and social acceptance through a social media presence that stands in sharp contrast to her withdrawn in-person demeanor. To its credit, Burnham's script balances Kayla's myriad embarrassments and moments of high awkwardness at the home she shares with her single father, the always awful low-security penitentiary that is middle school, a pool party, and the mall with enough fleeting glimmers of a better life ahead for its protagonist that the film avoids feeling like an unending wallow in angst; that said, so much of the tension in the film relies on the audience feeling a buzz of recognition at recreations of their own adolescent stumbles, and once that sensation fades, not much of deeper substance remains. You'd have to have had an extraordinarily smooth upbringing (or an extraordinarily difficult one, I guess) to not feel for Kayla, but I can't help but wish that the film had gone beyond that basic identification and sympathy to explore something more unique to this girl in some way. I'm realizing that this sounds like I disliked the film, which isn't the case — almost nothing Burnham is trying to do is outright unsuccessful, but it does feel minor and indistinct enough from so many similar films that its better qualities can't quite shine the way they should.

Ultimately, it's a fine coming-of-age story with a strong emphasis on the details of the modern era, and worth seeing for that, but underneath that veneer of novelty is the same type of story we've been seeing in indies centered around young suburban lives-in-progress for decades now, without enough to distinguish the core of its narrative to make it worthy of the high praise it's been receiving for the better part of the year.

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Brian C
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Re: The Films of 2018

#2 Post by Brian C » Tue Aug 21, 2018 11:46 pm

I didn't really believe any of Eighth Grade, and while I obviously can't speak to what it's like to be an eighth-grade girl, I'd be somewhat surprised if any current or former eighth-grade girls saw much of themselves or their experiences in the film aside from the most superficial touchpoints (e.g., "haha my dad was such a dork too!" or "wow, my school had mean girls too!"). What this is, is a paint-by-numbers made-by-condescending-adults teenage outcast story given an update for the social media age. Although it really doesn't have anything to say about social media, either, except that, well, kids sure like social media a lot.

I knew this movie was trouble right from Kayla's opening vlog, where she says 'like' approximately 22 times per sentence, in the way that every young girl does when adults are trying to make fun of the way kids (especially girls) talk. And sure enough, this particular affectation is dropped right after that scene, confirming that it was, like, intentionally written that way as a, like, you know, a wink to the audience about, like, you know, how kids talk that way, like, for sure.

From there the film hits a lot of the same notes as every other film like this - the interactions with the annoyingly earnest doofus dad (a horribly written and acted character), the ever-present acne, the non-sensical stammering when the cute guy talks to her, the aforementioned mean girls, the pool party where every girl is a model in a bikini except the protagonist who wears a frumpy one-piece, the dweeby guy she makes friends with because he's like authentic or something, the clueless authority figures at school, etc., etc. I won't say the movie hits every one of these notes EXACTLY like every other movie like it, but it's far too many, and the film always feels like a retread of well-worn material.

But you know what I really resent more than anything? At the foundations of their souls, I think the filmmakers really do look at Kayla like an outcast. I didn't get the sense that the filmmakers related to her or were even all that sympathetic. Instead, the film has the tone to me of one of the cool kids deigning to hang out with one of the nerds out of charity. It's constantly condescending to her and, well ... kind of gross, to be honest. It feels like bad faith, just pretending to care to build up their own cred as one of the super nice older kids.

Yuck.

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All the Best People
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Re: Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018)

#3 Post by All the Best People » Wed Aug 22, 2018 5:23 am

I found the thing very real and one of the better movies of the year. Elsie Fisher was fantastic and the directing was surprisingly assured for a debut, with a good use of sound and music as well. Some of the notes are familiar, but that doesn't make them illegitimate.

Daneurism
Joined: Thu Feb 06, 2014 6:32 pm

Re: The Films of 2018

#4 Post by Daneurism » Wed Aug 22, 2018 11:52 am

Brian C wrote:
Tue Aug 21, 2018 11:46 pm
I didn't really believe any of Eighth Grade, and while I obviously can't speak to what it's like to be an eighth-grade girl, I'd be somewhat surprised if any current or former eighth-grade girls saw much of themselves or their experiences in the film aside from the most superficial touchpoints (e.g., "haha my dad was such a dork too!" or "wow, my school had mean girls too!"). What this is, is a paint-by-numbers made-by-condescending-adults teenage outcast story given an update for the social media age. Although it really doesn't have anything to say about social media, either, except that, well, kids sure like social media a lot.

I knew this movie was trouble right from Kayla's opening vlog, where she says 'like' approximately 22 times per sentence, in the way that every young girl does when adults are trying to make fun of the way kids (especially girls) talk. And sure enough, this particular affectation is dropped right after that scene, confirming that it was, like, intentionally written that way as a, like, you know, a wink to the audience about, like, you know, how kids talk that way, like, for sure.

From there the film hits a lot of the same notes as every other film like this - the interactions with the annoyingly earnest doofus dad (a horribly written and acted character), the ever-present acne, the non-sensical stammering when the cute guy talks to her, the aforementioned mean girls, the pool party where every girl is a model in a bikini except the protagonist who wears a frumpy one-piece, the dweeby guy she makes friends with because he's like authentic or something, the clueless authority figures at school, etc., etc. I won't say the movie hits every one of these notes EXACTLY like every other movie like it, but it's far too many, and the film always feels like a retread of well-worn material.

But you know what I really resent more than anything? At the foundations of their souls, I think the filmmakers really do look at Kayla like an outcast. I didn't get the sense that the filmmakers related to her or were even all that sympathetic. Instead, the film has the tone to me of one of the cool kids deigning to hang out with one of the nerds out of charity. It's constantly condescending to her and, well ... kind of gross, to be honest. It feels like bad faith, just pretending to care to build up their own cred as one of the super nice older kids.

Yuck.
On the whole, I didn't really get the condescending vibe that you did, but admittedly, looking back at the scene where Kayla is on the...
SpoilerShow
friendship date with the kid she meets at the pool party-Two things bother me about it. One, that it's played for laughs which feels cruel to me, and two, it displays a misunderstanding of Kayla from the filmmakers. The date comes off as very remedial. It posits them as two kids who have limitations on how to socially interact. While Kayla doesn't seem to have friends in real life, we're shown that in comfortable settings(in front of a camera, with her high school friend) she's confident and social and just a regular kid. The scene tries to imply that both kids are stunted, and I think that's totally unfair
Anyways, I mostly did like this. Though, I wish it actually had something to say, or took a risk and went somewhere interesting. As it is, it's a sensitive character study, and that's fine.

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Roger Ryan
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Re: The Films of 2018

#5 Post by Roger Ryan » Wed Aug 22, 2018 12:05 pm

Daneurism wrote:
Wed Aug 22, 2018 11:52 am
...Anyways, I mostly did like this. Though, I wish it actually had something to say, or took a risk and went somewhere interesting. As it is, it's a sensitive character study, and that's fine.
For me, the film did have something to say about expectations of when one's life will "really begin", and the mature realization that one's future will always hold disappointments. It's actually a fairly profound idea for a 26-year-old to put into his first feature.

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Lemmy Caution
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Re: Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018)

#6 Post by Lemmy Caution » Thu Dec 06, 2018 3:37 pm

I also found it rather familiar and without much to say.

One issue I had was Kayla was likeable and it seemed pretty clear that she just needed another year or two to grow into her self and her convictions. That is, she was likely to make friends and do well, she just wasn't there yet. It'd be more challenging to take a kid that was a genuine misfit and was never going to fit in. So I thought the film took somewhat of an easy tack, a kid who was a bit awkward but likely to bloom, and we see manifestations of that mixed with nervousness and awkwardness.

I also thought the Father character was poorly written and badly acted. Watching the extras explained the choice of actor. It would be hard to find an actor who looked and sounded more like the director. Especially when we see the director interacting with the kids in the film. But couldn't well-meaning Dad actually come up with some useful ideas -- book reading, joining a sports team or some other activity, etc -- instead of just super-sincerely repeating that he thinks she's great. He never even manages to move on to saying it's just a phase and you'll outgrow it, which is at least believable.

Positives: The sound design was interesting throughout.
There were some good ideas such as students talking to their future selves. The "shadow" high school students. Using her vlogs as voiceover, even though I grew tired of that after a while. Elsie Fisher has a nice voice and handles her part well.

But a lot of the film felt kind of phony. I'd also be surprised if kids today actually said "cool" every 6th word. For a Growing Up Today film, I'd much prefer the more ambitious Florida Project or Boyhood.

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knives
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Re: Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018)

#7 Post by knives » Thu Dec 06, 2018 3:58 pm

Where is it set? Because depending on the setting I could believe the cool thing.

nitin
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Re: Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018)

#8 Post by nitin » Mon Feb 11, 2019 8:18 am

I found this to be pretty solid if not overly ambitious with plenty of well observed character scenes. I agree that it played Kayla’s eventual friendship with the other misfit kid a little too broadly but considering it was just another small step in self confidence rather than anything more, it still worked for me.

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tenia
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Re: Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018)

#9 Post by tenia » Mon Feb 11, 2019 8:59 am

I liked it too as a whole, though I agree with Brian C's descriptions of typical tropes/clichés used in it. I guess they just weren't bothering enough for me to make me dislike the movie, but it's clear the movie can be at times inconsistent with how it treats its main characters and superficial in the events and characters it uses.

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Re: Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018)

#10 Post by dustybooks » Mon Feb 11, 2019 12:02 pm

I thought this was very sweet but thin, yet I appreciated that it didn't neatly wrap up most of its threads (apart, seemingly, from Kayla's self esteem). The dialogue mostly struck me as impressively natural; some of the descriptions/depictions of anxiety were highly apt, so it made sense to learn that Burnham wrote the script partially to cope with his own issues in that area that arose as an adult. I was in eighth grade in 1997-98 but this wasn't enormously different from my memories of the time with the obvious exception of the explosion of social media, which I thought was very well integrated into the narrative without disrupting its universal elements. Still, it's inconsequential almost by design; most of its events are very everyday because they have to be in order for the film to work, but of course it can leave you feeling like very little of importance has happened. I happened to rewatch The Spectacular Now the next day, and while that film is much more self-consciously "cinematic" and heavy and eventful, I found myself more engrossed and engaged in its reality even though the central character has much less in common with me than Kayla. On reflection I think the primary reason is the parental relationships.
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The final catharsis in Kayla's relationship to her dad actually teared me up, but at the same time it played to me as kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy. Maybe that's cynical of me -- though my wife felt the same way, which maybe reveals a bit too much about our family histories -- and I hasten to add I don't necessarily think there's anything wrong with that, it just may have created some distance along the same lines as what Lemmy Caution mentioned above: that the character is basically fine and is likely to come out of this perfectly well-adjusted. That wasn't nearly as egregious here as in Pixar's Inside Out. My heart really went out to Kayla at many points, it's not like I thought she had no reason to be upset, only that the way things unfold -- apart from the cringey sequences and the horrific Truth or Dare scene -- is really almost the utopian ideal of how you'd want things to work out for yourself or your kid in an awkward phase.

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Re: Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018)

#11 Post by DaBargainHunta » Thu Feb 14, 2019 11:50 am

Tough crowd!

I personally thought Bo Burnham should have been nominated for Best Original Screenplay (but I guess his writing wasn't "flashy" enough for the Academy?) and Elsie Fisher for Best Actress (maybe they don't want to ruin yet another child actor's life?).

With that said, as realistic as the movie is, it's not always "fun" to watch and therefore isn't something I see myself revisiting very often.

It does feel "slight," as someone above said, but I think that's kind of the point. What really happens to kids when they're 13-14? From a "cinematic" standpoint, not much. From an emotional standpoint, a whole hell of a lot - as this movie demonstrates.

Not my quote, but it fits: "The best part about eighth grade is that it ends." I actually wouldn't mind a sequel to Eighth Grade in a few years though. Maybe Twelfth Grade? Maybe an installment every few years? Would be interesting to see this character in a series like 7-Up, the Antoine Doinel films (400 Blows, etc.), Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight.

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