Bo Burnham’s ‘Eighth Grade’ seamlessly captures the stress, awkwardness and vulnerability of being a teenager.
Eighth grade is a point in life where you’re no longer a child but not yet a teenager. That period is driven by insecurity, self-discovery and awkward behavior. I find myself aghast at the sight of my eighth grade school photo. My greasy, wavy, untamed hair was parted down the middle, my overgrown eyebrows were begging to be tweezed, and my smile was overcome with a mouthful of metal braces. I wanted boys to notice me, but I was too terrified to interact with them.
When I want to revisit these awkward times safely, I often seek out movies set during this transitional period. Films like Welcome to the Dollhouse, Thirteen, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dazed and Confused flawlessly capture the highs and lows of adolescence.
Eighth Grade is the next dramedy to add to the list of classic coming-of-age films. It premiered at Sundance on January 19, 2018, as part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition and became the most talked-about film of the festival. Eighth Grade follows Kayla, played by Elsie Fisher, who’s known for voicing Agnes in Despicable Me, during her last week of middle school. Kayla spends her free time posting YouTube videos with titles like “How To Be Yourself,” “How To Be Confident,” and “How To Put Yourself Out There,” but in real life Kayla is socially awkward and sits alone during lunch in the cafeteria. She even wins her eighth grade superlative Most Quiet.
Written and directed by comic, musician and former YouTube star Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade shows the complicated world that teenagers face today, which was one of the fascinating aspects of the film. Self-confidence is now measured in virtual outlets with Snapchat streaks, Instagram likes and YouTube subscribers. At one point, Kayla is seen getting out of bed and applying makeup only to get back into bed to take a Snapchat selfie. In a video interview with Variety, Fisher said, “Kayla’s experience is very reflective of my own because it is a good portrayal of what the internet is…. It’s not bad or good.”
Kayla is surrounded by peers equally obsessed with social media. A popular classmate named Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere) who was voted Best Eyes, points out, “Nobody uses Facebook anymore,” which makes me realize just how out of touch I am with teenagers.
From the beginning of Eighth Grade, we’re rooting for Kayla. Maybe it’s because we feel protective of Kayla the way we would feel for our younger sibling or our child. Or perhaps it’s because she represents all of us who struggled with emotions, social standing and identity while transitioning from eighth grade to high school.
Burnham started writing the script for Eighth Grade because he wanted to explore anxiety and its connection to the internet. His knack for writing teenage dialogue was so impressive with the “umms” and the “likes” that I had to look up whether the film was scripted or improvised. (It’s scripted, by the way.) The movie will be released on July 13, 2018, by A24, the independent New York movie studio that has distributed films like The Disaster Artist, Ladybird, The Florida Project and Moonlight.
Eighth Grade takes you through heartbreak, anxiety and the overall awkwardness of being a teenager. But in the end, hope and inner strength emerge. The film also reminds former outcasts we weren’t the only ones soldiering through this complicated time of our lives.