Chelsea Cain, the writer of Marvel’s Mockingbird and the eagerly awaited (at
least by me) Image Man-Eaters book recently asked: “What is scarier to our
culture right now than women? Adolescent girls are particularly scary because we
don’t know how we’re supposed to feel about them.”
Eighth Grade is a film which attempts and succeeds marvelously (this is of
course from the viewpoint of an older male critic speaking here) at giving us an
in depth sympathetic view of a teen female’s mind. This accomplishment in cinema
is rarer than you would think. We get to see many of her most private thoughts
expressed in tweets and texts.
The film, Eighth Grade masterfully captures the gulf between innocence and
experience. The show features a well-meaning single parent dad (occasionally
prone to mistakes) who has absolutely no idea how to deal with his teen
I was surprised to learn that the film was made by a man. The writer/director,
Robert Pickering "Bo" Burnham is an American comedian, musician, actor,
filmmaker and poet. Like the main character, he launched his career as a
Kayla (wonderfully played by Elsie Fisher in a breakout performance) seems to
spend most of her time putting up walls between her and her dad, and he
continually fails to touch base with her. But this is as much due to
technological differences’ in the generations as it is gender differences.
Of course this is an eternal problem. The 50s parents did not understand their
hippy kids and the baby boomer parents did not understand their punk or yuppie
kids. Now the tech obsessed generation born in the 90s and early 2000s cannot
relate to their even more tech obsessed kids. The gulf opens in a new way every
Kayla and her friends are typical ordinary run of the mill post millennial's (I
am not sure what the new emerging generation is called). She spends so much time
on her phone that her dad has a problem even getting a word in to her. When she
tries talking to some potential friends at her school she has problem connecting
with them because they cannot give her their attention for a few seconds because
it would mean they would have to stop texting.
This is sadly typical of the younger generations. At my class at Moraine Valley
Community College it keeps getting harder to get the students to put the phones
Kayla also has made a small name for herself as a YouTube star/heroine doing
videos dispensing advice to her peers despite the fact that the fact she is
socially dysfunctional and finds it difficult to talk to anyone in person.
This reminds me one of the things that was shown in the film The Social Network.
Mark Zuckerberg was so bad at communicating in person that he needed a less
direct way to talk to people so he created Facebook. The rest is history.
Eighth Grade is startlingly realistic and honest and it features a more modern
and slightly less eccentric view of young women than the recent Edge of
Seventeen and Ladybird
The main character has a crush on a hopelessly cool and aloof rebellious boy but
she hardly has the courage to say two words to him (he is more desirable because
like many bad boys he seems he does not care about anything.) He is forbidden
fruit which makes him more attractive kind of like an infinitely cool texting
version of the Brando character in the Wild One. She only gains the courage to
converse with him in texts. Of course the older, wiser audience members will
suspect that he is probably a cad. This aspect of the film is only partially
developed and is not the main focus.
There is only a few well-handled sexual situations in the film and no violence.
I was horrified when I saw that this film had gotten the R when so many films
that glamorize drugs and violence get PG13s. You can bet that if this had been
a big name event film it would have gotten a less severe rating.
Eighth Grade is a sweet, emotionally effective little Indy film that could.
Despite the fact that is modest in its ambitions and has no big names attached
to it, it manages to be much more compelling than most of its big name
I hope it finds some of the enormous success it deserves. In the best of all
possible worlds it would roll right over the franchise films and all the other