A Reflection on “Eighth Grade”

by Taylor Brethauer, Editor-in-Chief

I first saw the film “Eighth Grade” with a friend over the summer in an empty movie theater, on a spur-of-the-moment decision to go to see something in order to escape the summer heat.

Originally the only reason I was interested in this film was because Bo Burnham, one of my favorite comedians, was the writer and director. I knew that anything with his name attached would be high quality and very funny. I’m so happy my hunch was right and that my expectations were surpassed; but more on that later.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago when I was on Instagram and saw that Burnham had posted on his Instagram Story that A24, the production company that produced “Eighth Grade” and other popular independent films such as “Lady Bird” and “Moonlight”, was hosting a contest. They wanted 100 schools– ranging from middle school to college– to enter in to win a free copy of the film to screen at their school.

I passed this information along to my friend and co-leader of the Manhattan College Film Society, Marisa Washington, who then passed it along to Margaret Toth, associate professor of English, head of the film studies minor and the advisor to the MC Film Society. A few weeks after this conversation, Manhattan College had been selected as one of the schools to screen the film.

The film, as part of the Film Society’s year-long theme titled “New Beginnings”, was originally slated to be screened in the spring semester. “Hard Candy”, directed by David Slade and starring Ellen Page, was supposed to be shown on Oct. 30 in Miguel 311. The contest win and free screening switched the two around.

Students and faculty and members of the community filed into Miguel 311, which is the classroom used for film study courses due to its large screen. It was the perfect way to display the film and provided a movie theater-like atmosphere.

Speaking of movie theaters, I thought that seeing this film with such a large crowd of people around my age, all reacting and interacting with the scenes in the same way was the best possible viewing I could have had with a film like this.

In the funny scenes, there was an uproar of laughter. In the ridiculous and cringe-worthy scenes, there were nervous giggles and whispered “oh my gods.” Especially in a particular tense scene, there were sharp intakes of breath, sad outbursts of “this can’t be happening”, and groans of upset. The crowd as viewers experienced and lived this film together and it was a highlight of the evening.

The film itself brings about probably one of the most refreshing takes on nostalgia that I’ve ever felt while watching something on the big screen. Kayla, the main character played by Elsie Fisher, is a girl trying to find her way in the world during the transitional period of middle school to high school.

Themes addressed include social media usage, bullying, sexual assault, school shootings, coming of age and sexual awakening. Yet what Burnham has given to the world is not cheesy or a public service announcement– he gives a heart wrenching, wistful and overall familiar film with Fisher, a truly rockstar actress in this role.

The screening ended with a discussion moderated by Washington, as per all Film Society screenings. Not many people left as soon as the movie ended because the large crowd wanted to voice their opinions about what they had just watched.

The discussion took many turns, as Washington shared trivia she had learned while researching and preparing questions. Questions about the film ranged from the themes touched on within the film, along with the correlation to the viewers’ own experiences in eighth grade.

Washington then spoke about the tense scene mentioned before, which centers around the theme of sexual assault. Many students jumped in, speaking about the Me Too movement and the feeling of being trapped that the viewer felt with Kayla during that scene.

One student mentioned he has a sister around Kayla’s age and that the scene made him angry and understand how people in vulnerable situations could be taken advantage of in ordinary situations.

As the discussion wrapped up, many audience members agreed that the film was wonderful. I can wholeheartedly agree with that statement and would recommend it to anyone looking to return to their eighth grade years and remincise in the purest way, thanks to the mastermind that is Burnham.