Cameron, I look forward to your analysis of the plot. I was struck by two things. First, how plot is scalable. This is a character-driven story all about Kayla. Clearly, Burnham wanted to do an intimate story. A normal contemporary girl facing normal contemporary issues. By scaling down the story to a tiny chapter in Kayla’s life, Burnham manages to take what would typically be ‘small’ moments, e.g., Kayla invited to a pool party, and turns them into ‘big’ moments. Second, everything about the plot is closely tied to Kayla’s psychological journey. I doubt there’s one scene in the script which doesn’t advance her character arc.
As I was reading the script, I kept thinking about John Hughes in reference to Eighth Grade. The movie is a completely different aesthetic than Hughes’ teen movies like Ferris Bueller, Some Kind of Wonderful, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and others. Hughes’ movies had a kind of glossy sheen to the characters. Super smart youths who were extremely articulate. Kayla struggles to communicate, so caught up in anxiety about how she’ll come off in public. She’s a ‘warts and all’ character even down to her acne. Hughes would never have cast, let alone write this type of character. He wrote idealized versions of teens who resonated with youth audiences in an aspirational sort of way. Burnham went the other direction. Audience members wouldn’t want to aspire to be Kayla. Rather they *are* Kayla, she *is* them. Especially females.
I just Googled: Bo Burnham and John Hughes. The top article is entitled: “Eighth Grade is the anti-Breakfast Club.” Some excerpts:
It’s painful to watch. Much of the movie is. But only because it rings so true.
And I couldn’t help but wonder, as I watched Kayla navigate that moment and so many others, how different adolescence might be for kids who watch characters — girls — exercise autonomy over their own bodies, even if it earns them scorn.
So many movies of my youth positioned young women as conquests — sometimes unconscious, sometimes unwitting, almost always uninterested, but succumbing to sex anyway, out of some sort of duty to a boy.
“Eighth Grade” consists almost exclusively of Kayla’s thoughts. Conscious, self-conscious, complicated, tortured, hopeful, despondent, joyful thoughts.
It’s a treat, even as it’s heartbreaking, to watch those thoughts given the room to breathe and fill up a movie.
I’m not ready to let my daughter, one year younger than Kayla, watch “Eighth Grade” yet. But when she does, I know she’ll be witnessing a truer, more fully formed female character than those on the screens I used to watch.
Kayla’s journey is not aspirational. It’s inspirational.