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The Mass Media

2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Uncomfortably Warm Hug: An ‘Eighth Grade’ Review

There is a macabre pleasure to be had in watching the suffering of those in undesirable social situations. I’m not talking about those eerie moments we see in kooky horror films, always beginning with blissful innocence and ending with a gaggle of dead teens. No, I mean the truly dire social gatherings we see in really scary media, such as Fawlty TowersSeinfeld, and *gulp* The Office. Though played for laughs, these comedies portray a sort of social horror, in which the players are put in the most uncomfortable situations imaginable, and we are left to watch cringing as these poor fools stumble awkwardly through an emotional mine-field, where each bomb bursts with an explosion of laughter. And if these comedies can be called social horror, then comedian Bo Burnham’s directorial debut film, Eighth Grade is this generation’s Rosemary’s Baby.
            Let’s face it, being thirteen is, for most people, a harrowing experience. And though many prior school comedies have sidestepped the sadness that lies within the middle-school heart, Burnham has made the smart choice of portraying this developmental stage with vulgar honesty. There is nothing absurd or unbelievable about this film, nothing that was invented for the purpose of comedy. Burnham’s film is but a quilt of various vignettes, stitched together into a sequence vaguely resembling a story, all of which read as could-be-true tales which just happen to be funny.
            The primary grounding force in this film is, like in any piece of realism, the wonderful cast of characters. Eighth Grade follows the introverted girl Kayla (Elsie Fisher), and her relationships with her beleaguered father Mark (Josh Hamilton), the popular kids Aiden and Kennedy (Luke Prael and Catharine Oliviere, respectively), Kennedy’s cousin Gabe (Jake Ryan), the kindly high-schooler Olivia (Emily Robinson), and Olivia’s friend Riley (Daniel Zolghadri). Even the most minor characters have interesting and believable qualities to their personalities, to such an extent that, though not all characters are sympathetic, they are all human. Kayla’s moments with her father in particular compose some of the most spectacular dialogues in, not just this film, but the whole genre of realist comedy that doubles as social horror.
            Now, like too many films, Eighth Grade is, unfortunately, not perfect. This is, after all, Burnham’s first feature film, and as wonderful as each little bit may be, they don’t always come together seamlessly. It almost feels like three or four short-films played one after another, with enough little pieces cut around each other so that one must watch the movie in full. This is mostly fine, but for a few plot threads and musical motifs dropped from the first act. Oh well. This was still a fun, sad, dark, uplifting film, well worth the price of a ticket. Bo Burnham has done something special, and I’d highly encourage all interested parties to witness it.