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“Eighth Grade” and “Sorry to bother you” = A+

A pleasure to catch up on movies during a heat wave. Saturday, “Eighth Grade” with Ken, and today “Sorry to bother you” with Sam – both superb, heartening signs of the strength and innovative creativity of the American film industry today.

“Eighth Grade” is a painful look inside the soul of an American 13-year old – very interesting for me since I spent years delving into my own 13-year old self for my memoir. The writer/director Bo Burnham does a great job of bringing an ordinary, rather plain, pimply, shy, yet sensitive and ever hopeful girl to life, depicting her world of the savage cliques of middle school, the vast jungle of the internet that devours her time, the creepy boys she must learn to deflect and navigate. In 1964 I wrote in my diary; she posts a stream of heartfelt, encouraging videos on Instagram where anyone can see them, though probably, no one does. I felt this film in my bones.

My only real criticism is in the persona of her father, who, unlike his daughter, is Hollywood handsome and decent, kind and wonderful. At one point, he delivers the most glorious, loving speech any daughter could ever hope to hear from her dad. As Ken said on the way out, I never encountered a father like that; I didn’t know who that was. Me either. When he was 13 in 1948, Ken was battling a growing terrifying sense of being gay in small town Ontario; when I was 13 in 1963-64, my father was telling me I was spoiled, selfish, lazy, and a neanderthal for loving the Beatles. I cannot imagine what life would have been like if my father had said, over and over, how wonderful I was and how proud he was to be my father. Unimaginable.

But aside from this one bit of treacly fantasyland, a lovely, original film. Afterward I told Sam I was glad he and his sister were always the cool kids, confident in school, and he said, “Are you kidding? I had a giant mole on my forehead in Grade 9 and the kids called me Mole Man. The teasing didn’t stop till the mole was removed.”

I have absolutely no memory of his giant mole or of arranging to have it removed. Hard to remember a time when he was normal size.

“Sorry to bother you” is not lovely at all but amazingly original it is. Hard even to describe – as Sam said, I thought it was going to be about race, about black people versus white people, but it’s really about fighting the excesses of capitalism. It’s a funny and horrifying social satire, also written and directed by an immensely talented young man – Boots Riley.

A pleasure to be so stimulated and entertaining and thought-provoked in air conditioned rooms.

Aside from movies, I’ve continued, slowly, my culling of shelves and basement piles, taking the bulky albums full of photos and stripping them, putting the prints in plastic bags or boxes and throwing away the binders. And yesterday, getting out the pile of daytimers I’ve kept through two decades, going through them quickly to see what happened when, and then throwing them out. The daytimers show just how incredibly busy I was through those years as a single mother of two not easy children in a leaky old house, while also trying to earn a living, write a difficult book, become fit, have a social life and even, occasionally, a love and sex life (what a distant memory THAT is), keep myself, my children, and our pets and garden healthy, go to Ottawa regularly to visit my mother and aunt, and – oh yes – learn Russian and go to the shrink. It makes me tired to think about it.

Also had to deal with a crisis on my street – the Little Free Library outside my house became a flashpoint for two of the book-stealing crazies in the rooming house up the street, to the point that one threatened violence – “I’ll kill you!” – to someone who tried to stop him from taking out all the books. So I had, painfully and reluctantly, to shut it down.

It rained, and instead of close and stifling the air is fresh and clean. Holiday weekend over, back to reality tomorrow, only I walk the streets with a new sense of what it is to be 13 and what it is to be a person of colour in a mad, greedy world. The insightful gifts of art.



2 Responses to ““Eighth Grade” and “Sorry to bother you” = A+”

  1. theresa says:

    Two films to watch for. Thanks, Beth. Ah. fathers. I realize, having written several novels and novellas, that I am always yearning for the perfect father, the one who supports and is demonstratively proud. Loving. Mine wasn't, though I knew he loved me. Watching my sons with their children is a gift. They are so patient and encouraging. Which their own father was, mostly. So we learn, I guess, and pass along the lessons.

  2. beth says:

    Theresa, yes, there is a whole new breed of man and father out there now. When I see a man with a baby in a Snugli and pushing a toddler in a stroller, I think, this kind of man did not exist even 20 years ago. So that is a very positive change for our poor battered world. But still, the father in this movie, sole parent to his churlish teenaged daughter, was so kind, understanding, loving, and handsome, I didn't buy it for a minute, especially in a film that was so brutally realistic in other ways.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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