For better or worse, ‘Eighth Grade’ will take you back

A number of years ago, I ran into a guy I had been head over heels for in junior high.
He, on the other hand, barely knew I was alive back then.
Unfortunately, we both remembered the last time we’d laid eyes on each other.
It was 1988, and we were both 13. His family was moving to North Carolina soon, and he was spending the final few moments he would ever spend roaming the halls of Benjamin Banneker Junior High School.
Knowing this, several of his friends began pushing me toward him, while I stood there stoically, in an effort to maintain any shred of dignity I might have had.
“Kiss her!,” they cried. “Come on! You’re leaving! Just do it!”
He demurred. I died inside.
Just another traumatic day in the life of an awkward eighth-grader.
Who wouldn’t want to relive it, right?
Yeah, right.
But relive them you will with writer/director Bo Burnham’s amazing “Eighth Grade,” which I was lucky enough to catch last week.
I swear to you this movie is so good. Though it should probably come with a trigger warning.
The story follows average eighth-grader Kayla, as she navigates the weird world of being a 13-year-old girl on the brink of high school. It’s not sensational, it’s just her, and the people around her, and all the stuff being 13 entails.
Nothing much happens. Except, you know, everything. Thirteen is a tricky time.
I can’t tell you how many times Liser and I cringed during this movie, because it felt so real.
“Oh my god, this is killing me,” I believe we whispered to each other more than once.
On a couple of occasions, I heard the women behind me groan in shared agony.
But before you say, “Why in the world the would I want to see it, then?,” seriously, it’s also hilarious.
And OK, fine, yes, you’ll probably cry, too.
Because, well, it’s eighth grade.
I’m still marveling at how a middle-aged man managed to capture being a teenage girl so well in his writing. And at how effortlessly actress Elsie Fisher brings this character to life.
Most of all, though, I can’t get over how much it took me back to that age, that crazy period where you’re still such a kid, but struggling so hard with all the expectations of growing up.
It’s already one of the most difficult stages of life — and you have to face it with acne and zero make-up skills.
A couple weeks after that run-in with my eighth-grade crush — during which we hung out long enough for me to realize he was still an arrogant jerk — he sent me an email, telling me what a good time he’d had catching up.
To it, he’d attached a copy of a screenplay he’d just finished.
It opens with a flashback scene in which a painfully unattractive girl stands surrounded by her nerdy friends, cowering in silence in front of the hottest boy in school.
Much attention is paid to describing how hideous she is. And how cool he is.
The boy and the girl are being teased by those around them: “Kiss her!,” they yell. “She wants you to!”
The boy graciously offers to fulfill this wish of wishes, but the girl runs away, bereft.
Fade to the present, when the girl and the boy meet again as adults and — shocking reveal! — she is no longer a monster. In fact, she’s super hot.
And still madly, desperately in love with him.
Thank god Burnham is a better writer than that guy. At least one of them knows what he’s talking about.

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