Middle school is a time filled with awkward growing pains and moments of self-discovery, though many may try to repress those memories. Comedian-turned-director Bo Burnham encapsulates the essence of early adolescence in his debut feature film, Eighth Grade. The comedic drama centers on the everyday life of 13-year-old Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) as she encounters the trials and triumphs of her eighth-grade year, such as making new friends, figuring out love, and finding herself.
It was the Best of Times, It was the Worst of Times: In its genuine recreation of the junior high battlefield, the protagonist of the film, Kayla, is unapologetically sincere at her attempts to forge an identity of her own in a world where everyone seems to be against her. Actress Elsie Fisher breaths life into the character with her natural charm and unfettered sincerity, owning the role of an insecure teen with the goal of becoming the next YouTube sensation. What makes Eighth Grade even more effective is the realistic standards with which it depicts the young cast. Gone are the elaborate costumes, immaculate makeup, and salon-quality hairdos typical of the Disney Channel demographic. As the onset of puberty approaches, these pre-teens sport blemished skin and chipped fingernail polish texting away on their smartphones. The heart of the film lies in the accuracy of details, forming a time capsule that perfectly symbolizes the lost feelings of loneliness and insecurity normally associated with growing up. Topics such as body image, anxiety, and sex are introduced into the seamless flow of the story without appearing out of place or inappropriate for the audience of the film.
Viral Vivacity. One point that Eighth Grade makes abundantly clear is that this generation of youth thrives in the technological landscape of social media and cell phones. Even Kayla’s father has trouble trying to get her to communicate with him and put away her phone at the dinner table. While the irony remains that Kayla emulates what she sees in her Instagram feed and YouTube recommendations — there is a theme of miscommunication throughout the plot: parents are at a loss for what their kids are experiencing, the teenagers are glued to their screens taking in all the power of influence while trying to maintain their sense of originality as well, and priorities are majorly shifted from focusing on the important things to taking the perfect profile picture selfie. While this internet culture is strongly present in 2018, the way it is depicted in the film provides a frightening reality check on how impressionable adolescents consume media and the damaging effects it can have on self-image.