Ruff Draft

Eighth Grade review: One for the books

Trey McCabe, Memorial Staff Writer

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If we’re being honest, middle school was, to use the phrase mildly, the worst for most of us. We’d much rather forget it ever happened and if presented the chance to do it again, a fair number would passionately decline. But for better or worse, stand-up comic Bo Burnham is here to remind us of those very dark times in our lives with his feature film debut Eighth Grade.

Anyone who has ever had the sublime pleasure of watching one of Burnham’s socially conscious, musically driven stand-up specials knows that the man is a gifted musician and brilliant comedian. His songs are scathing in their commentary, raunchy in their delivery, and aching in the raw emotions lurking beneath.

With Eighth Grade, he marks himself as a master director as well, blending cinematic expressivism with lifelike realism which collide in a startlingly original and timeless vision. To say anymore of his own talent, though, would distract from the importance of his film.

The film, in typical A24 fashion, is a coming of age story, atypically following Kayla Day, played note-perfect by Elsie Fisher (Despicable Me), who is in the last week of her dreadful middle school experience, and things don’t seem to be looking up for her.

Despite regularly uploading YouTube videos encouraging self-confidence and self-assurance, Kayla is shy, quiet and completely friendless. Her single father, played by Josh Hamilton (Thirteen Reasons Why) seems to be the only person she talks to, and she often pushes him away.

Burnham presents this story as a slice of life, which goes a long way in communicating the film’s raw (but ever-so-heartwarming) picture of stress and anxiety. The scenes flow into one another in the way that only life itself does, with its ebb and flow of emotions carrying one up and down. Cinematographer Andrew Wehde (with whom Burnham collaborated on four stand-up specials prior to this film) aids this endeavour with a steady camera, utilizing zooms and tracking shots to spectacular effect, never distracting from the story and always adding to it.

One of Burnham’s most meaningful flourishes, though, is Anna Meredith’s score for the film, with the pulsating synthesizers providing a stark contrast to the unbearable silences in which Kayla’s anxiety is often the worst. This operates as a simple but undeniably effective manifestation of the effects of social media exposure to young people, the importance of which cannot be understated.

You may note, as this review comes to a close, that I have provided little detail concerning the film’s plot beats. This is much preferred, as I’m of the mind Burnham and company would rather you experience every moment for yourself in its beauty or discomfort, hilarity or solemnity.

Contact Trey McCabe at [email protected].

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Trey McCabe, Memorial Staff Writer

Trey McCabe is a senior this year at Edmond Memorial, and this is his second year on staff at Ruff Draft. He has won two first-place awards at OSSA for...

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Eighth Grade review: One for the books