Eighth Grade (2018)

2019 #148
Bo Burnham | 94 mins | digital (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Eighth Grade

I confess to never having heard of Bo Burnham before the buzz generated by this, his debut film as writer-director. According to his Wikipedia page, he started out as a YouTuber, turned that into a standup career, and from there has been a musician, actor, screenwriter, and poet — plus, with this, film director. It’s the kind of trajectory that challenges your perception of what being a YouTuber is good for. Of course, other “content creators” have jumped beyond the confines of the video streaming site before, but generally to eye-rolling effect for any of us old enough to be outside the sway of popular youth culture. But Burnham bucks that trend too, because in Eighth Grade he’s produced a mini masterpiece of distilling the teenage experience.

The film introduces us to the life of Kayla (a star-making performance by Elsie Fisher), a 13-year-old girl so shy and insecure that she doesn’t seem to have any friends at school, but who still spends most of her time engaged in typical modern teenage activities: glued to her phone scrolling through social media, and posting her own content that no one anyone actually views. (At this point we’ve all been there, right?) The videos she posts online are perky and optimistic, presenting a front of having her life together. In reality, Kayla’s middle school experience has been miserably lonely, and as it comes to an end she hopes for a better time in high school. (If the American high school movies we’ve all seen are anything to go by, her chances can’t be good…)

In some respects, Eighth Grade is wholly focused on showing us the present day. The specifics of what it depicts are very much “modern American teenager”, with pool parties, active shooter drills, living through social media, their eyes glued to phones, etc; even the plot-prompting transition from middle to high school isn’t necessarily relevant to those of us outside the US education system. But if you look past the modern milieu to the fundamental feelings underneath, they’re universal and speak across the generations. This is the most truthful movie about what it’s actually like to be a teenager I think I’ve ever seen. It really captures the uncomfortableness of being a not-popular teen, both for good (well done Burnham & co, you conveyed your point) or ill (it can be as squirm-inducing as living the real thing). And if you watch it and think “eh, I don’t remember my teenage years being like this”, I’m afraid to inform you that you were quite possibly one of those kids making life a bit awkward for the rest of us. Sorry.

Kayla

Much like bullies, indie movies often revel in taking nice people and kicking them down, because, hey, life’s shit and that’s probably what’s gonna happen. Without spoiling where the story goes, it makes a welcome change to see a film where realism isn’t abandoned (Kayla’s life doesn’t become plain-sailing) but in which the nice, sweet, quiet character nonetheless sees their life improve, rather than believe things are gonna get better only to have their expectations crushed. Well, there’s a certain degree in which the optimistic hopefulness of being a tween is contrasted with the crushing reality of being a teenager, but there’s a positive message along the lines of “these things shall pass” that I think remains good advice to many people struggling with a particular time in their life.

Talking of specific times in one’s life (this is a tenuous transition, I admit), the certifications handed to Eighth Grade (at least in the UK and US) are a bit daft. To clarify for the benefit of those of us on the outside, the US’s 8th grade is for 13- to 14-year-olds; the equivalent of Year 9 in England (other UK and Anglosphere countries may vary). So it’s somewhat amusing that a film explicitly titled Eighth Grade is officially limited to over-15s in the UK and over-17s in the US (I know R is a little looser than that, but you get what I mean). You feel that the certifiers are, not for the first time, somewhat out of step when it comes to the realities of kids’ life experiences. I doubt that’s a major problem (I’m sure plenty of people don’t stick rigidly to the ratings), but it is, perhaps, a stark reminder that things like the boundaries of film certificates require constant review and revision if they want to remain relevant.

Something that I think will remain relevant is Eighth Grade. As I said, it already transcends its depiction of current teenage lifestyles, so it stands to reason that, as time goes on, while it will cease to accurately reflect the specifics of young people’s lives, it will continue to encapsulate how it feels to be that age.

5 out of 5

Eighth Grade placed 9th on my list of the Best Films I Saw in 2019.

The Whimper-Not-a-Bang Monthly Review of December 2019

Happy New Year, dear readers. In fact, Happy New Decade!

Well, kinda. Yeah, sure, technically it isn’t, but when people talk about “the 2010s” they’re going to mean “2010–2019” and when they talk about “the 2020s” they’re going to mean “2020–2029”, so…

Anyway, as usual I’m going to spend the first week (give or take) of this new year looking back at the old one. I already started that in my Christmas Day post — which contained the kind of thing I’d normally be writing about here, so now might be an appropriate time to read that if you haven’t already.

Otherwise, onwards to my final monthly review of the decade…


#147 Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
#148 Eighth Grade (2018)
#149 Brightburn (2019)
#150 Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar (2019)
#151 Death on the Nile (1978)


  • So, I watched five new feature films in December.
  • The last of those came on New Year’s Eve, granting December a last-minute reprieve from being in my bottom 10% of months ever, and also from being one of my lowest months of 2019. Instead, that (dis)honour is shared by June and October.
  • 2019 was the first year since 2014 that any month tallied fewer than 10 films — and, with December now included among them, in total there were five such months.
  • That finalises the monthly average for 2019 as 12.58, which obviously December was well below.
  • It was also below the rolling average for the last 12 months (previously 13.3, now… 12.6, of course), and the average for December itself (previously 11.7, now 11.2).
  • There’ll be more on where this puts 2019 in relation to previous years in my annual statistics post, later in the week.
  • Nothing from Blindspot nor WDYMYHS again this month, meaning I got nowhere near completing either. Oh dear. But I did watch 17 films between the two this year, which is a better result than if I’d only been doing one of those challenges, so that’s good.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched Brightburn and Eighth Grade.



The 55th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Well, this is easy-peasy. Of the five films I watched, four scored 3 stars. The other was Eighth Grade, which gets a full 5.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
I watched some distinctly middle-of-the-road films this month, but plain old mediocrity is nothing in the face of the disappointment that was Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
I only made four posts in December, and only one of those was an opening-weekend review of a highly-anticipated, much-talked-about final film in a 42-year-old ultra-popular franchise, so it should surprise no one that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the victor here.



I’d’ve had to rewatch 24 films in December to reach my goal of 50 for 2019. No surprise, that didn’t happen. But I did watch a few, at least.

#27 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – Extended Edition (2001/2002)
#28 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – Extended Edition (2002/2003)
#29 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – Extended Edition (2003/2004)

That’s the first time I’ve watched The Lord of the Rings since I started doing Rewatchathons. They’re still great.

And so my 2019 Rewatchathon ends on #29 — far lower than intended, but it’s better than 0, and that’s really the point.


The streamers seem to have gone absolutely bloody mental with new additions this month — Netflix could boast 87 additions yesterday alone, while literally thousands of films poured onto Amazon’s Prime Video across the month… at least according to the site I use to track it. In reality, a lot of the stuff that picked up as ‘new’ was already available (for some reason it seems much harder to track what’s new on Amazon than Netflix). Whatever — I didn’t watch any of them, so everything worthy of note pops up down here in my failures.

But before I get onto rattling off those titles, some comparatively short lists. Like for the cinema, where I missed what’s supposed to be one of the best films of the year, and another that’s supposed to be one of the worst. Those are Little Women and Cats, respectively. One I’ll surely pounce on when it hits disc is sequel/threequel/fourquel (depending how you want to count it) Jumanji: The Next Level, which is hopefully a bit of fun (I’ve not really read any reviews of that one).

Speaking of discs, a mix of new purchases and Christmas presents bulked out my to-watch list this month. The single biggest addition was Criterion’s Godzilla box set, with its 15 giant monster movies. I also got my mitts on their release of the Koker trilogy. Further catalogue additions came via Master of Cinema’s release of A Fistful of Dynamite and Arrow’s of The Exorcist III, while newer titles included Anna and the Apocalypse, Happy Death Day 2U, and Men in Black: International (it was on offer). This month’s discs were rounded out by a trio of rewatchers: Toy Story 4 (in 3D!), Deadwood: The Movie (without the much-desired deleted scenes), and miniseries From the Earth to the Moon (in its controversial HD restoration).

So, we return to Netflix and Amazon. The former had a few high-profile originals this month: possible awards contenders Marriage Story and The Two Popes, plus Michael Bay’s latest, 6 Underground. Some other 2019 releases I’ve yet to see elsewise also cropped up, including the new Hellboy, Missing Link, Mrs. Lowry & Son, Fighting with My Family, A Private War, and Mid90s. Amazon didn’t have any brand-new titles to brag about, but they did have some similarly recent acquisitions, including Wild Rose, Fisherman’s Friends, and Horrible Histories: The Movie. As for older titles popping up… well, there were many, but select ones of note across both services included Roman J. Israel, Esq. (with its Oscar-nominated turn from Denzel Washington), The Rover, The Breadwinner (moving from Amazon to Netflix), the original Benji, Blackfish, Young Mr. Lincoln, and The Great Escape (that’s right, I’ve never seen The Great Escape).

I’m gonna need to start watching considerably more films again to even touch the sides of that lot.


After I’ve done my usual array of posts analysing 2019, it’ll be on to 2020 — my 14th year. And it’s entirely possible it’ll be the year I reach #2000…