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‘Eighth Grade’ Is One Of The Most Honest Teen Movies Ever Made

Film
Photo from A24

It’s honest and heartbreaking

Does it ever feel like at least 90 percent of cinema’s teenagers are in their last two months of senior year? This is not literally true, but certainly a preponderance of movies about teenagers focus on late-high school rites of passages like prom, graduation, or college applications. To an extent, this makes sense. The waning months of high school can be one of the most transitional times of a young adult’s life, and times of transition are inherently dramatic, especially if teenagers are involved.

But plenty of teenagers are fully formed adults by the time they graduate high school, at least if you compare them to who they were in middle school or, in areas that have yet to abolish this monstrous institution, junior high. Yet there are comparably few movies and TV shows about kids around 13 or 14; most of the prominent examples are cases where the protagonists’ ages seem disproportionately determined by close study of The Goonies, like the movie Super 8 or the Netflix show Stranger Things. Like It, another ’80s-born entertainment of that ilk, they also tend to include supernatural themes, and boys. Lots of boys. Maybe one girl. 

So while Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is not the first movie ever made about a girl in middle school, it’s still quite unlike most recent movies about teenagers. Most importantly, it feels observed, rather than cribbed from bits of other movies—unlike, say, the Netflix phenomenon The Kissing Booth. It’s also, in its own way, a graduation narrative, following Kayla (Elsie Fisher) during her last week of eighth grade before moving on up to high school. There’s not as much ceremony involved: no dances, no valedictory speeches, no suspense over the size and shape of envelopes from higher education institutions. But often the emotions are, appropriately, rawer about sillier things, like whether Kayla will be voted “most quiet” in her class superlatives (spoiler: she will), despite her on-camera insistence, using perfectly timeless vernacular of younger people vaguely imitating older ones, that she is, in fact, “talkative.” If you get to know her, that is. 

Kayla isn’t breaking the fourth wall, at least not formally. She narrates not to movie-goers but to viewers of her YouTube channel, where she holds forth on a variety of generic self-help topics: being comfortable with yourself, being confident, being all the things that 14-year-olds may not be yet. There’s no indication of who or how big Kayla’s audience is, and though she cloaks many of her experiences (or lack thereof) in hypotheticals, it’s clear that her videos (awkwardly punctuated with “Gucci!”) are sincere—and that Burnham (a former YouTube sensation himself) is acutely aware of how intensely a contemporary young person’s communication is mediated (and how adolescent awkwardness crosses platforms effortlessly). Kayla is often alight with the glow of her phone and laptop, and the film mostly regards these habits without judgment; Burnham so adeptly brings the audience into his heroine’s mindset, in fact, that he got my heart to drop when she cracks her phone’s screen. 

The compromised phone isn’t a major plot point. It’s just one fine detail in a movie full of them, from the contents of Kayla’s pre-middle school time capsule to eternal dirtbagginess of aloof adolescent boys (Kayla’s crush is just such a boy) to the casual school shooting drills (Kayla’s crush also wishes a school shooting would happen because he’d fuck up the shooter right away). The only adult with considerable screentime is Kayla’s father, played wonderfully by Josh Hamilton as a dad trying to give his daughter her own space but too observant, in his delicately dorky way, not to sometimes ask what’s wrong. The movie does the same with Hamilton; it’s not particularly about his character, or even about the father-daughter relationship, but he can’t help but loom large over the story anyway, right down to the way Burnham has Kayla occasionally repeat certain phrases from her dad when he’s out of earshot (Kayla’s mom is out the picture, but the movie isn’t really about that, either; the absence is mentioned only in passing).

Fisher, who carries the movie and appears in every single scene, is remarkable here, and remarkably unaffected. I can imagine someone dinging Eighth Grade for scoring cheap sympathy points, with its sweet-natured heroine and the lack of acidity that characterizes, say, Welcome to the Dollhouse, still one of the most indelible movies about the American middle school experience ever made. But crucial to Burnham’s capturing of this particular age group is the implicit acknowledgment that teenagers are also kids—kids who are getting smarter, more independent, and more experienced, but also increasingly capable of repeated and detailed disappointments. After Kayla gets some guidance and hangout time with a friendly older girl, there’s a scene that may have you holding your breath over whether this movie is about to take a horrifying but all-too-realistic turn. 

That’s not to say this movie indulges in sentimental bullshit about the innocence of childhood, or that its emotional underpinnings outstrip its technical prowess (in a quiet way, the movie is also beautifully made, with some judicious but unshowy following shots that bring the audience right into the adolescent scrum). It just keeps zeroing in on its subject matter with open-hearted clarity. So many teen movies, even ones that look forward to life after high school, feel oddly tidy once its characters march across the graduation stage. Eighth Grade does a better job than most at looking ahead with hope and uncertainty, both heartbreaking. 

Eighth Grade is out in theaters on July 13.

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Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Along with

Showtime just ordered a pilot episode of Casallina "Cathy" Kisakye's comedy anthology series, which will be executive-produced by Lena Waithe. The show, called How to Make Love to a Black Woman (Who May Be Working Through Some Shit), sounds like it'll be... informative.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, though the series is a comedy, it will also touch on some vulnerable subjects as well. It described the show as being about "connection and rejection that explore our most harrowing—and harrowingly comic—sexual secrets." Waithe said in a statement about the news, "Cathy's script is haunting, funny, and extremely vulnerable—it's the kind of script that doesn't come around very often." She continues, showing her excitement for the project: "I'm honored that Cathy trusts me with such a special project. I can't wait for the world to see it."

Kisakye, who previously worked with Waithe on The Chi, says that the show is close to her heart, and that the series will portray three-dimensional, complex women. "With How to Make Love, I'm thrilled to tell stories about the women I know, who are complicated, passionate, resilient, and relatable," she said in a statement.

Kisakye is the creator of the show, and will be writing the pilot script. It's the latest project to come to Showtime through Waithe's first-look deal and, according to The Hollywood Reporter, should it go to series, this would be the first anthology for the network.

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FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB

Screenshot via Youtube

While the song should serve as a reminder to your exes

Just a day after dropping new single "Nunya," featuring Dom Kennedy, Kehlani has released the winter-wonderland visuals to go along with. The singer, NYLON November cover star, and mother-to-be rocks some of the best winter 'fits I've seen in a while, including a glorious puffer jacket that could double as a down comforter that I absolutely need in my life right now.

Kehlani is clearly living her best life up in some snow-filled forest hideaway, vibing on the beach at sunset and sipping on something bubbly as she coolly reminds nosy exes that who she's with is "nunya business." There's not much of a story line (unlike her recent "Nights Like This" video); the main takeaway is that Kehlani is busy dancing through a forest, missing no one and chilling amongst people who are clearly not the subjects of the song.

Kehlani is only two short months away from bringing baby Adeya into the world, who she thanked for helping her get through the video process. "Shot that 7 months pregnant in da snow..." Kehlani wrote on Twitter, adding, "thank u baby for da motivation, mommy was FROZE."

Even from the womb, Adeya has been hustling hard alongside her momma. Twitter user @ODtheMC pointed out that this is already her second music video appearance, and she's not even been born.

Get some mulled wine ready and escape into Kehlani's winter getaway, below. Stay tuned for her forthcoming mixtape, While We Wait, out on February 22.

Kehlani - Nunya (feat. Dom Kennedy) [Official Music Video] www.youtube.com

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