July 30, 2018

Eighth Grade is in select theaters on July 13th, 2018.

Adolescence is a painfully awkward experience that each of us is forced to overcome. Every motion, every word – everything as a preteen is a vulnerable, uncomfortable mess that feels like you’re under a microscope. Just thinking back on my preteens makes me cringe, and yet here we are in the movie theater reliving this period in accurate, excruciating detail. Yet what sets Eighth Grade apart isn’t just its realism (although it certainly adds to its brilliance), it’s the fact that it speaks to all of us who have ever felt at any point in our lives that we don’t belong.

Eighth Grade serves as an accurate homage to our youth. The movie centers on an awkward, soft- spoken eighth grader named Kayla, portrayed by Elsie Fisher who is truly refreshing in the role by delivering a phenomenal performance that truly engrosses the viewer and captures the heart of the film but also because she is one of many actors in the film chosen to portray people their actual age. Yet Kayla isn’t content being the shy girl in the back of the class. Instead, she engrosses herself in social media as an outlet to be the girl she wants to be. Kayla stars in her own Youtube channel where she imparts wisdom and advice to her viewers, encouraging others to be themselves and to put themselves out there. Truly, the advice is more of a way to act like the girl she wants to be and seems more like a cathartic pep talk we would’ve had in front of a mirror before social media, rather than in front of a camera.

Yet Kayla struggles with breaking out of her mold. She can’t make eye contact with her crush in class. And when invited to a popular classmate’s birthday party by the girl’s mom, Kayla struggles to connect with anyone and finds herself trying to leave the party early as she obsesses over her Instagram feed. Acting like a confident, put together girl is easier said than done. Throughout many moments, Kayla tries to overcome her social anxiety, in acts that truly seem monumental to her, but are insignificant and unnoticed by any of the people she tries to desperately to connect to. Barely stuttering out about unrelated thoughts when talking to others or murmuring “good job” when two popular students win “best eyes”, Kayla is trapped by the uncaring nature of adolescence and her own struggle with being outgoing.

The film is bolstered by a variety of heartfelt and touching moments. Her relationship with her single father (Josh Hamilton) as he tries to comfort her when she asks if he was ashamed of having a daughter like her, of her finding a semblance of normality and social interaction when she meets a high school senior who finally gets her, and most of all, the many moments of self-reflection she has with herself – finding a time capsule from when she first entered middle school to signing off of her last vlog. All of these moments elevate the movie into something truly powerful and meaningful.

Eighth Grade is one of this year’s titans, serving as the best summer release this year so far. It manages to address insecurity and loneliness in a completely new way. It’s fresh – it’s a film uniquely of this generation. And it addresses everything between social media, growing up, and discovering ourselves. It strikes a perfect balance between not being overly optimistic (there is no happily ever after) and also not being soul crushing or depressing. It’s hopeful yet real.

Despite being a film about an eighth grader (portrayed by someone who just finished their eighth grade year, no less), it can resonate with anyone. Not just because we’ve been there before, but because it addresses a struggle with ourselves that any one of us is familiar with. There aren’t many real villains in the movie. Apart from a few throwaway lines, no one really bullies Kayla. It’s actually the opposite – the main strife of the movie comes from Kayla’s inability to connect with people, of letting her own social anxiety stand in her way. And it’s not even because she lets it – between volunteering to do Karaoke and trying to awkwardly seduce her crush, Kayla is truly brave. She isn’t a helpless victim of her social anxiety. She puts in effort to break out of it, putting the biggest struggle of the film between her and herself. A battle all to familiar to most of us.

A movie written and directed by Bo Burnham, the youtube star turned celebrity comedian, Eighth Grade is nothing if not charming. With the weight of its source material, the movie is hilarious because of how real it is. Despite the lofty message, it isn’t depressing or overwhelming. It’s hopeful, not overly so, and it is because its relatable and takes the awkwardness of adolescence and translates that into relatable comedy.

Eighth Grade is ambitious. Written, directed, or even produced by any other person or studio, its own self-doubt could have prevented this truly amazing film from being what it is today. It is raw, emotional, and heartfelt. But most of all, it nails everything it sets out to do and more.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Johnny Johnny (Senior Contributor) was born and raised in San Diego. He's been a fan of films the majority of his life. He enjoys the feeling it invokes and the power it has to take you to another place.
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