Eighth Grade tells the story of Kayla Day’s last week of middle school and shows the struggles that come along with it. This seemingly simple tale turns out to be one of the best movies of the year. It is an extremely confident movie about a girl who claims to be constantly nervous.
This is a relatable movie. Not only because of the fact that just about everyone has had a middle school experience, but because the story is presented realistically. First time writer/director Bo Burnham does a great job of making the characters talk the way that middle schoolers actually talk. They don’t just sound like some adult was trying to write their dialogue for them. In fact, even the adults speak in a realistic way. The movie doesn’t present dialogue and personal interactions to be something that flow perfectly. Instead, people are genuinely awkward, they stutter and stumble over their words, and don’t always know exactly what to say. It seems like an interaction that anyone could have with another person.
But it is more relatable in the sense that just about everyone can understand the situations and emotions that Kayla goes through. Burnham formats the movie in such a way that the audience doesn’t learn much about any character other than Kayla. He does this in two different ways.
First, the only character that has any sort of arc other than Kayla is her father. We aren’t allowed to learn about other people because it is Kayla’s story. Burnham wants to put on display the life of a specific middle schooler and everything that she has to go through.
Second, he keeps the camera on Kayla through the use of close ups and by having the camera’s focus be on her. It is the best kind of empathizing with a character in a movie because we really feel like we are there with her, and in some cases, that we are her. This makes for a huge emotional impact. There is one scene in particular (which I won’t go into because of spoilers) that had me feeling more uncomfortable than I have in almost any movie I have ever seen. This is because of the structure and the framing of the scene, and it’s because of how much Burnham allows the audience to really experience this week along with Kayla.
The film also offers commentary on modern technology and even the Me Too/Time’s Up movement (the latter of which I again won’t get into due to spoilers). Throughout the whole movie, we see young teenagers using their phones and we are shown some effects of this constant use of technology. But it doesn’t condemn this use. It is as if the movie is saying, “This is the way kids and adults alike live these days. Get used to it.”
But the biggest theme that Eighth Grade explores is one about becoming yourself and finding who you really are. Kayla makes YouTube videos about how to better yourself, but she has a hard time following the advice that she is giving. As she continues to make these videos, though, she starts to realize the importance of all of the ideas that she is bringing up and tries to follow them for herself. And through the use of beautiful editing – which is present throughout the entire movie – we see that she is helping herself in a way she never would have realized.
Eighth Grade is an excellently done coming-of-age film that will probably go under the radar, but shouldn’t. The realism that it portrays isn’t present in a lot of movies that are released these days. It is a breath of fresh air that lets the audience – no matter age, race, or gender – relate to and learn from a 13 year-old girl who has wisdom way beyond her years, whether or not she realizes it.