“It’s so real that I can almost guarantee it comes from a place of truth in Bo’s life…”
I finally got the chance to see Eighth Grade last night, and I really enjoyed myself. I wasn’t necessarily blown away by it, mainly due to the insane amount of praise the film has been getting since its release, but I felt it lived up to my expectations. For those who don’t know Eighth Grade is a film written and directed by comedian Bo Burnham, and it chronicles the various struggles that people endure during the awkward pre-teen time of their lives, just before high school. But what I loved about Eighth Grade was that it was about so much more as well.
Now as of late the indie film market has been, for lack of a better term, oversaturated with coming of age stories featuring young girls. I have absolutely no problem with that in any way shape or form becasue if done right (which the two movies have been) they are all-encompassing. Lady Bird, which was released late last year, might be the most relatable movie I’ve ever seen. We got to see the troubles of fitting in and communicating with your parents, trying to be someone you’re not; really all of the highlights. And we got to see these issues again in Eighth Grade, but Burnham does a good job of making the movie a little more broad than that as well. Sure there is a lot of commentary about how hard it is to be a kid and deal with trying to fit in and be yourself, but there is also a lot of discussion about some mental health concerns that plague today’s youth especially in terms of social media.
Now I don’t want to gloss over how true to reality Eighth Grade was. This movie hit the nail on the head in terms of capturing a generation, and it has the possibility of going down as the definitive movie of this time period. And a lot of that comes down to how the movie portrayed growing up with technology. You may not realize but technology, specifically the advent of social media, has an enormous impact on what it means to be a kid. People like to poke fun at the idea of cyber-bullying or social media-caused depression by saying things like “just turn off your phone” or “go outside for a bit”, but Eighth Grade did a good job of conveying that it isn’t that easy. You see that not playing the game alienates you more from your peers, and playing the game is just as harmful but in a different way.
The segments of Eighth Grade wherein our main character was making YouTube videos chronicling her advice for kids her age were particularly heartbreaking, because it shows just how toxic the internet can be. During these segments the main character, Kayla, was talking as though she had all the answers. She was confident, she was funny, she was well put-together. But what really sold the message of the movie was when you got to see the complete picture. When Kayla would talk about being confident and making new friends, and then that audio would be imposed over a scene of Kayla sitting alone in the cafeteria while other students jovially went about their day. This is the root of the problem with social media, and a main cause of thoughts of inadequacy in kids. You only put your best self forward when posting on Instagram of YouTube, but its easy to forget that when you are in the downward spiral of self-hatred. You look up and all you see are beautiful people who have everything figured out and every insecurity in your head is compounded and realized.
Putting aside the social media implications for a second, this was actually a really interesting look at the human psyche in general and it acted as the main way I related to the movie. Kayla is obviously not okay, but she understands enough about what is wrong with her to advise others. I’ve literally been in that scenario. I can’t count the times that I’ve helped someone through a rough spot with a smile on my face only to go home and stew in my own unhappiness for the night. There is something to be said about how Bo Burnham captured the feeling of being smart enough to understand what is happening, but being too helpless to do anything about it. It’s so real that I can almost guarantee it comes from a place of truth in Bo’s life, and judging by some of his other work I wouldn’t say that’s a stretch.
There is some other stuff I could say about Eighth Grade, some praise some critiques, but I don’t think it would do anything. Eighth Grade spoke to me in a way not many movies can, and for that I have to say: Thank you. Thank you to everyone who worked on this movie. Thank you to Bo Burnham for saying what is often times so hard to say. Thank you.
I give Eighth Grade an A