It’s important that young and aspiring filmmakers come to understand the importance of character development and arcs. Not only do these assist in creating an effective story, they also helps in building the necessary connection between the viewers and the people who they’re asked to follow on-screen. That’s one of the major problems with Eighth Grade. There doesn’t appear to be an attempt at developing characters or creating arcs, so we’re left with an empty movie that starts but never comes close to finishing.
In Bo Burnham’s debut as a writer/director of a feature film, we meet Kayla (Elsie Fisher), a thirteen year-old entering the final week of middle school before moving into the summer and then entering high school. Over the course of this movie, we’re introduced to certain people and aspects of her life that have her in some kind of a bind. These make for plenty of opportunities to turn in a sound film, but it never quite reaches the heights it could have.
I wasn’t too sure about seeing Eighth Grade at first, but it seemed interesting enough since I tend to like movies about kids going through the difficult years of childhood. There are always different ways to tell this kind of story, so there’s always something new to focus on while attempting to remind people just how traumatic things can seem even though they usually turn out not to be that big of a deal when you get older.
Eighth Grade proved to be completely aimless in its structure since it’s never allowed to become an actual movie. With all of the potential stories they have at their disposal, I’m kind of shocked that there’s no attempt to bring any of it together in any way. In the early going, they introduce characters and situations that could help build a story, but they’re quickly tossed to the side and are even forgotten for large chunks of time for who knows what reason.
The only character not pushed away after a few scenes is the eight grader Kaylie that we’re following throughout. Since she’s the lead, that’s expected, but you need at least need a couple of those other people you introduce to mean something to the film’s overarching story. Since there’s no attempt to do that and she doesn’t even have an arc herself, we’re left with a feature film that’s incomplete.
Because of this, everything that’s introduced is ultimately pointless as there’s no payoff and no real reason given to tell this story or to care about it. All we know is that the movie is here, but it ends without any development, no redemption, and not even a single lesson learned for our protagonist or anyone else included. In the end, you may be left asking yourself what this entire exercise was for. If so, the answer may not be to your liking.
The father is probably the only other person with any consistent screen time. He’s also the only adult character of any significance in this movie, but he does absolutely nothing. At some point, you would think he would do something of value, but he doesn’t. You’d think he’d be more active in his young daughter’s life but he offers no advice and no discipline while proving to have no impact at all on anything that happens in the film. As one of the worst parental figures in cinematic history, he just stands around looking hopeless and clueless the whole movie.
I know it’s Bo Burnham’s first feature film, so I can’t be too hard on him or completely judge him as an artist. What I can say is that he needs to continue to work on his craft in order to become a legit filmmaker. Maybe he’ll do that over time, but we’ll have to wait and see. If he does try to improve, I’ll be interested to see what else he has to offer as he develops his skills.
Rarely is it ever good to have a movie end exactly where it began. Unfortunately, that’s what happens when you don’t have a worthwhile journey for a character to travel down. Even if it’s not the main character, it’s wise to include someone who is affected in some form by the time we reach the culmination of a story.
One primary benefit of this is the connection between the audience and everything that they’re presented with on-screen. Whether the characters are charismatic, sympathetic, understandable, or even just likable, it allows the people to engage on the journeys that these guys and girls are going on. This creates the potential for memorable experiences that people can take with them while also establishing a level of sustainability that can carry films forward into future for upcoming generations to enjoy.
Director: Bo Burnham
Film Length: 93 minutes
Release Date: July 20, 2018
Distributor: A24 Films
- Score - 3.5/103.5/10