This year, the Sundance Film Festival decided to bestow its top prize, the Grand Jury Prize for a U.S. Drama, on Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post (henceforth Miseducation), an adaptation of Emily Danforth’s novel of the same name.
Back in 1989, several prominent commentators, such as David Denby and Joe Klein, predicted (incorrectly) that Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing would incite riots. Since then, reviewers have invariably used charged adjectives – “provocative,” “fiery,” “angry” are some of the more popular ones – to describe Lee’s work. Summing up the general consensus, one writer for The Guardian recently went so far as to call Lee “the boldest and brashest auteur in American film.”
In reality, however, people who call Lee’s films polemical or incendiary are only telling half the story.
Every year seems to bring the release of yet another film (e.g. 2017’s Lady Bird, 2016’s The Edge of Seventeen, 2015’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl…) in which a hapless American teen has to deal with things like sex, crushes, self-image, and larger questions regarding identity and purpose. Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade doesn’t exactly break this mold. Its protagonist, an iPhone-toting, Instagram-obsessed eighth grader named Kayla (Elsie Fisher), is the very epitome of today’s technophilic generation of American adolescents (a.k.a. “Generation Z.”). Plotwise, moreover, the film is all about Kayla’s attempts to grapple with the aforementioned problems during her final week in middle school.
Given the familiarity of its underlying narrative elements, Eighth Grade could easily have been just another run-of-the-mill “teen movie.” In reality, however, there are three reasons why it proves more memorable and meaningful than many of its genre predecessors.