Rarely comes a movie so gut-wrenchingly authentic and emotionally articulate as “Eighth Grade.” Even more rarely does that movie include an anxiety-ridden 13-year-old girl as the main character. As something so imperative to teen culture, a piece of media which accurately portrays its leading demographic without glorifying or dramatizing a single detail should be accessible to the age of movie’s central cast, but controversially that is not the case for the R-rated coming of age film.
The movie focuses on a meek blonde eighth grader named Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher). From the start of the movie, it becomes conspicuous that she feigns a sense of self-confidence which she lacks in her everyday life, for the internet. In her vlogs for youtube, she attempts to spread the self-help advice that she herself is yet to follow.
The film begins with a montage and segment of a day in middle school chock full of cringe-inducing moments, visual gags such as a teen boy sniffing a marker, a plethora of humorous references to youth pop culture and a comical perspective on the disconnect of adults to puberty-ridden children.
It’s toward the culmination of the middle school experience; the time when summer peaks just above the horizon and winter coats are traded in for thigh-high shorts. Every individual in eighth grade eager to exit the premises where they spent a large degree of their most awkward years, and every student yearns to expand their horizons in their looming future high school experience.
So, naturally, the school executes the overt cliche and unneeded traditions to celebrate the end of their years at the school. Mr. McDaniel (Greg Crowe) attempts to produce some excitement for the celebrations, but his obvious detachment from teen culture hinders him from doing such.
When Kayla’s own peers vote her as “Most Quiet,” she looks visibly distraught while she purses her lips together and closes her eye then cups her own face with her hands. “A lot of people, like, call me quiet or shy or whatever,” Kayla said in her own Youtube video. “But I’m not quiet. I don’t talk a lot at school but if people talk to me and stuff they’d find out that I’m, like, really funny and cool and talkative.”
As the superlative winners file through a room to take photos, Kayla set her eye on her crush: another boy in her grade named Aiden whom the class voted “best eyes.” The shot of him is accompanied with cheesy backdrop music to emphasize Kayla’s fantastical crush.
When she attempts to blend with the crowd as she exits the school premises, Kayla is flagged down by a bubbly mother of one of the most “popular” girls in school, Kennedy Graves. The mother asks Kayla to extend thanks for her father’s help with the Spring Fling and then invites her over to Kennedy’s birthday pool party. Kayla feigns surprise, and says she’ll “have to check her schedule first.” The mother, also, seems like just another adult who’s out of touch with the social culture of you. She tells her daughter “Kennedy will send you an invite on Facebook. Isn’t that right, Kennedy?” To which Kennedy retorts “no one uses Facebook anymore, mom.”
The movie then jumps to a scene with music and Kayla scrolling through Instagram. A generic pop song fills the background as photo upon photo by classmates of Kayla fills her screen. Although her father (Josh Hamilton) sits directly next to her, Kayla fixates her attention solely on the internet’s contents. Her father struggles to connect with her in a conversation which quickly leads them awry.
The following day, Kayla arrives at Kennedy’s house for a pool party. The Grave’s house, when juxtaposed in shots to the residence of the Day’s, seems to be huge. Kayla feels extremely nervous and has an anxiety attack in the bathroom when dawning on the fact that she has to be vulnerable and in a bathing suit.
Kayla conquers her insecurities, though, and attends the remainder of the party. This is one of the many moments in the movie where the audience sees Kayla step out of her comfort zone, whether the result is positive or negative.
One controversy after the release of this movie centers around the fact that the film would be “Rated R for language and some sexual material” according to MPAA standards. Many young teens have stated that the movie is an incredibly accurate and plausible depiction of their own lives, yet those who are represented in the movie are barred from seeing it. This even enraged the creators of the movie, who managed to give a “no ratings enforced” one-night screening of the movie nationally.
At one such screening, in Los Angeles, the creator of the movie, Bo Burnham, and the star Elsie Fisher conducted a Q&A with the audience who attended. It was an unmoderated open forum, so anyone had the ability to inquire.
I, as a high school sophomore, was one of such moviegoers who had the opportunity to pose a question to Burnham and Fisher. I asked Burnham and said, “You’re not a middle school girl, and as far as I know you aren’t a dad. How were you able to write such an emotionally articulate movie without experiencing those moments [in the film]?”
While Burnham did still have a humorous personality (in addition to a movie director, he also works as a stand-up comedian) when he retorted my question with ”I’m not a dad? Come on out, honey,” he responded to the question with candor from his own experiences and emotions.
“I mean that did help (the relationship and thirteen years between them,” Burnham said. “And I felt like both of them. I felt like a nervous kid on the internet and I felt like an out of touch dude who had no idea what she’s going through. So in those scenes I could kind of stand between them; mediate.”
Burnham also referred to his past in stand up comedy. “I did stand for a long time and I would talk about my feelings; typically my anxieties onstage which were to me particular to my own experience because I was a 20-year-old male comedian with an audience. And then, 14-year-old girls would come to me after the show and say ‘I feel exactly like you do.’ And I’d say ‘what’; no, truly. So if there was a bridge I had to build to write Kayla [the movie’s main character], it was built by them to me first,” Burnham said.
Burnham and Fisher both gave numerous other insights about the behind-the-scenes emotions when they were filming and their input on the most important parts of the movie. Due to the fact that the majority of these answers spoke about key plot points, I will not be including them. But I do recommend you grab a ticket to see “Eighth Grade” and revel in the beautiful motion picture’s poignancy yourself.