Set during the last week of middle school, the new teen drama Eighth Grade is about the tsunami of awkwardness and self-consciousness that engulfs teenage Kayla (Elsie Fisher) on a daily basis. Arguably little “happens” to the eighth-grader, but YouTube comedian-turned-director Bo Burnham is so effective at evoking the gawkiest facets of (my) adolescence—the self-protectively rounded shoulders, the inability to make eye contact, the simultaneous wishes to disappear and to be seen—that I not only watched his filmmaking debut in a mental fetal position, but strained against the back of my seat so often I came out of the theater physically exhausted.
Thankfully, Eighth Grade is not just about Kayla. It’s also about her hot dad Mark, played by the character actor Josh Hamilton. If you haven’t yet seen the movie—in which case, why are you even reading this article?—I can hear your protests, your flabbergasted shock. Unlike, say, Love, Simon’s Josh Duhamel, Hamilton is no DILF, and his character, Mark, is never presented as such. Save for his actorly trimness, Mark could be a cover model for Dad Monthly. He wears polo shirts and cargo shorts. His floppy shag is the same one that Justin Bieber made famous—then ditched nearly a decade ago. The less said about his Hindenburgian attempts at humor, the better.
And yet it cannot be denied that the frequently shirtless(!) Mark is a hot dad—an unconventional dreamboat by dint of his flawless fathering. He’s a devoted single parent who is gentle and guileless and knows just when to give his child space or continue comforting her. In his first scene with Kayla at the dinner table, when she ignores his attempts to make conversation (and the dinner he made for them) because she’s too caught up in her phone, he throws a green bean at her face. He knows full well that she’ll get annoyed and that he’ll probably have to pick up the projectile legume himself, but he does it because he believes the chore is worth the attempt to make a connection with his daughter. When he secretly follows Kayla to the mall to spy on her and her new friends (not, normally, a hot thing to do), it’s clear he knows her enough to be aware that the outing is a big deal for her. And, of course, in a pivotal monologue that, in all its majestic parental wisdom, rivals those of Call Me by Your Name and Love, Simon, Mark tells Kayla how proud he is of her and the way she’s growing up.
Not that you have to take my word for it. It’s canon that Mark is hot. After all, it becomes clear that Kayla wouldn’t have been invited to the popular girl’s pool party if the latter’s mom weren’t interested in Kayla’s dad. (Part of Kayla’s innocent charm is that she’s so mired in her own issues that she never pieces together that she has a Hot Dad.) But if maturity is the light at the end of the tunnel of Eighth Grade’s adolescence, Mark is the kind of grown-up we hope Kayla meets once she outgrows guys like Aiden (Luke Prael), the popular boy with a baby giraffe’s body and a serial killer’s dead eyes, and Gabe (Jake Ryan), the nice-enough dork who can still only talk about his interests.
But the most important role that Mark plays in Eighth Grade is making the film a semitolerable experience. He’s an oasis of sweetness in a world of overwhelming (yet utterly mundane and relatable) suck—and thus the one consistent relief from a movie designed to put viewers onto a 14-year-old’s never-ending treadmill of unease. Parent-teen relationships are often more complicated than the one between Mark and Kayla, of course, but without the calming interludes of Hot Dad, Eighth Grade might have been too much unmitigated horror to bear. The guys who make the best snacks, it turns out, are the guys who make the snacks.