One of the most talked about films in theaters right now is Bo Burnham’s directorial debut, Eighth Grade. Having been a fan of the comedian for a number of years now, when I learned his name was attached to the already intriguing project, it made the decision to see it pretty easy. So, this past Monday, as I packed up my stuff at work, I checked the showtimes nearby and decided to spend my open afternoon doing just that.
Walking into the theater for the 4:00 p.m. showing, I fell in step behind a couple and then discovered my assigned seat was directly beside them. We shared a laugh and made a few comments about the associated odds, and then slowly got quiet. They leaned into each other and talked low, and I opened the book I had in my purse.
As time went on, other people began to shuffle in. Some alone, like the girl my age in a slouchy cardigan, and the one probably younger than me with a blonde bun piled on top of her head; an older woman carrying a large popcorn and a colorful shawl, and a man about my dad’s age wearing a red shirt and glasses, who took a seat in the very front row. Others arrived in pairs, like the couple already stealing bites of each other’s food, the boy in the baseball hat that walked in laughing beside the one with long brown hair, and a pair of girls carrying identical ICEEs and whispering.
The man in the couple next to me leaned in to his girlfriend. “What do you remember about eighth grade?”
“Not much,” she replied.
He paused and then said, “I remember my dad taking me out of school for a week…” and then continued the story too quiet for me to hear.
I sat reading my book, listening to the mumbles of surrounding conversation, my mind wandering to where I was in eighth grade. I thought of the week I had pneumonia and how when I came back a number of my fellow classmates told me they thought I died. I remembered having crushes on boys that my best friend and I gave code names and wrote about in notebooks that we passed back and forth between classes. I thought about my hair and what a nightmare (at least I thought) it was, and how I refused to take it out of a bun unless it was flat-ironed. Also, the pink pants, but I tried not to harp on those, it was the early 2000s.
After a while, people started to get restless, and when I looked at my watch, I understood why. Before I could form an opinion on the matter however, a theater employee walked in to inform us that the movie would not be playing. He offered his sincerest apologies and assured us we would get a refund and a coupon. Glancing around at each other, we all stood up, most of us shrugging and exchanging short anecdotes like, “well that sucks.”
As we stood in line for our coupons, I got the same feeling I always get after I walk out of a movie. That sense of camaraderie with my fellow moviegoers, knowing we’d just gone on the same journey together, even though in this case the journey was much shorter than we might have preferred.
On my way back to the car, I glanced at my phone. Since I’d spent a good amount of time looking over the showtimes earlier in the day, I remembered something about a 5:15 showing at a theater down the road. I tucked my coupon in my pocket and picked up my pace. I had 15 minutes. I could make it.
Hustling to the line at the second theater, I waited patiently, alternating my gaze between my feet, the ticket window and my watch. In a look back a few minutes later, I recognized a few of the faces getting in line behind me. A girl with a blonde bun piled on top of her head; a boy in a baseball cap followed closely by a boy with long brown hair; a man about my dad’s age with a red shirt and glasses. Each of them held a gift certificate in their hand, waiting patiently while trying not to look at their watches.
Once I was in the new theater, I again took a seat by myself, again noting the couples, groups and other singles that filed into the theater one after the other. My instincts were to feel self-conscious. I was here alone after all, and eighth grade me would have died at the thought. But as the lights went down and the conversations I wasn’t a part of began to fade out, I realized how far gone I was from eighth grade me. And as I watched the movie and laughed and cried and cringed with everyone about the things we all went through at that age, I was reminded how far we’ve all come since then.
Without going through what we did, the movie might not have been as funny, and it might not have made us (or hey, at least me) cry. We wouldn’t have cringed or “aww-ed” or wanted to hug the hell out of Kayla (the main character played by Elsie Fisher) because we wouldn’t have understood how much better things get. How much more we were going learn and experience and discover. We wouldn’t know that eighth grade is ugly but life is beautiful. That life becomes beautiful because eighth grade is ugly, and how it repeats this cycle throughout every stage that follows.
So as credits began to roll and the lights came back up, we all looked around at each other and smiled. We were filled with that feeling of camaraderie, but this time it wasn’t only because of what we’d gone through today, it was because of everything we’d gone through since the day we stepped foot into eighth grade, and every step we’d taken after. We knew were in this together, and that unlike our eighth grade selves, we weren’t afraid to admit that that mattered.