Middle school may have been the worst, but Bo Burnham’s new indie, coming-of-age story, ‘Eighth Grade’, definitely is not.
Finishing up the eighth grade meant closing the chapter on the most awkward, uncomfortable three years of your life. Middle school behaved more like a pressure cooker for tweenagers unable to cope with their raging hormones nor navigate the social anarchy it created around them.
YouTube sensation and comedian Bo Burnham makes his directorial debut with the newly released film, Eighth Grade, which behaves more like a cinematic time-machine, that transports viewers back to the seemingly endless, pivotal, and socially anxious days of middle school, but in the best and most emotionally raw way possible.
Eighth Grade tells the story of 13-year-old Kayla (Elsie Fisher) as she faces her final week of junior high. Our young heroine seems to walk the halls of her school unnoticed. Kayla isn’t exactly what one would describe as a social pariah, but her lack of any close friends leaves her invisible and a total wallflower amongst her classmates. Ironically, Kayla finds solace in her YouTube series titled “Kayla’s Korner,” where she dissects the in’s and out’s of adolescence to a non-existent audience. It becomes almost immediately apparent that while Kayla’s wise words on “how to be yourself” and “how to put yourself out there” are incredibly profound ideas for such a young being to divulge, she falls short on taking her own advice.
In a digital age that feeds on social validation and life-experience comparisons that enhances personal insecurities, Kayla falls victim to scrolling through a never-ending array of Instagram and Twitter posts depicting seemingly happy people. Although digital media is a large influence in Kayla’s journey, Eighth Grade doesn’t place any overt blame on screen usage. It simply recognizes it as an undeniable factor in contemporary life for young adolescents attempting to navigate their already chaotic lives.
Kayla’s overtly crippling social-anxiety makes for some oddly relatable humor, but make her moments of strength and groundedness that much more notable. In an unforgettable scene where high schooler Riley (Daniel Zolghadri) attempts to “truth or dare” Kayla into an uncomfortable, sexual encounter, Kayla no longer turns towards others to dictate her behavior, but presents her own subdued fortitude in an unprecedented interaction. The film’s most charming relationship is between Kayla and her overly concerned and quirky father Mark (Josh Hamilton), who wants the world to see his special girl the way he does, as a bright, wise-beyond-her-years, mini-adult with a goofy personality. Although their relationship is heartwarming and sweet, and extremely relatable, the one question Eighth Grade sets up, but fails to answer is what really happened with Kayla’s mom, and how has this affected Kayla’s social and emotional development. Perhaps tangential from Kayla’s eventful final days as a middle schooler, these unanswered questions loom over certain parts of the film and temporarily distract from the central storyline.
Nevertheless, Burnham sets up a clear understanding of the modern day middle school experience through a relatable (on any level) story. This coming-of-age film depicts the good, the bad, and all the unforgettable moments that make middle school and eighth grade so unmistakably vital through a rich and compassionate story arc. Overall, Eighth Grade is undeniably “Gucci!”
Check out a trailer for Eighth Grade below!