All of us know how traumatizing middle school can be. It is a time of our lives full of awkwardness, uncertainty and attempts at being cool. Adding social media to that can truly make things much more cringe-worthy. Eighth Grade, an A24 film written and directed by comedian Bo Burnham, captures these perils of growing up during the social media age perfectly. The film centers around Kayla, a shy 13-year-old who has suffered through a terrible eighth-grade year. She copes by making advice videos on YouTube where she portrays herself as an outgoing girl with many friends when in reality, she spends much of her time sitting in her room scrolling through Instagram or watching Youtube alone. The movie follows her as she attempts to make friends and prepare for high school.
Kayla has social anxiety, which she attempts to overcome in her quest to make friends. Her determination is touching, and you root for her through the mishaps she encounters. So many embarrassing moments occur throughout the film where you don’t know if you should cringe or laugh. Kayla keeps trying, only with her dad’s support, despite her pushing him away out of embarrassment. Every moment is so genuine and realistic, you forget you’re not watching a documentary.
One of the best things about Eighth Grade is that it represents this generation so perfectly. Amid the awkwardness are Vine references, teachers dabbing, Thrasher t-shirts, Instagram comments, Snapchat filter selfies and makeup tutorials from YouTubers like Olivia Jade. Movies about tweens and teens are often so unrealistic. Many of the great coming-of age-films are older, so they are not accurate portrayals of growing up for us, or they tend to omit social media altogether. Popular coming of age films that have come out recently include The Edge of Seventeen, which does not show a strong social media presence, or A24’s Lady Bird, which is set in the early 200os and not representative of this generation. While they hit the mark when it comes to the life lessons and human nature, they seldom show what an actual group of eighth graders or seniors are actually like.
Which leads to another great thing about the movie: the eighth graders actually look and act like eighth graders. Too often teens are portrayed by people who are not teens or by teens who look much older. Kayla, portrayed by Elsie Fisher, does not look like the girls on Instagram or on Disney Channel. She looks like a regular girl in your class. She even has acne, a detail that many coming of age movies erase from teens. Even in the clothes that the characters wear, it is evident that these are actual eighth graders. Kayla and other girls in her grade wear Hollister t-shirts and jean shorts, which a stark contrast from Disney Channel movies or shows that portray teens as wearing many layers of clothing, often much nicer and more expensive than what actual teens wear.
Even for those of you who do not enjoy coming of age films, you’ll enjoy this one. It is hilarious, relatable, and moving. It tackles social anxiety, body positivity and much more, and represents our generation in a way no film has ever done before. With a cast full of rising stars and a script full of realistic dialogue, Eighth Grade is sure to win many awards as well as your heart.
Images via A24 Films