Eighth Grade

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Eighth Grade — and elementary-to-high school in general – is a different experience for everyone. Some reflect on it as a fun time with friends and a little learning in between. Some cringe at the memories and feel it’s all best left behind. Some are seeking therapy 20 years later due to the horrifying circumstances that befell them in those dark, dark ages because tweens are evil monsters sent to destroy your self-worth and stomp out any remaining embers of hopes and dreams.

Which one am I, you ask? I DON’T WANNA TALK ABOUT IT.

I thank the gods for letting me adolesce when I did; the internet didn’t really happen until I was in High School, and even then, it was AOL Instant Messenger and Napster. We didn’t have the tools to hurt one another via Instagram shade or sending nasty DMs on Snapchat that would disappear, absolving the sender of any misdoings.

Don’t get me wrong, kids were still horrible; we just didn’t have all of the avenues to express it the way the youths do today.

Eighth Grade follows Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) through her conclusion of Middle School. Posting to her YouTube channel frequently, Kayla spends her time and energy putting #GoodVibesOnly into the world. The videos she posts are centered around inspiring confidence and well-being in her audience.

Under the watchful eye of dad, Mark (Josh Hamilton), Kayla must navigate the choppy waters of ascending from the peak of Middle School to the rocky bottom of the valley in High School. When she’s invited to a pool party by the mother of a girl at school who Kayla is fairly certain doesn’t even like her, She does something I never would have had the guts to do; not only does she show up, she GOES IN THE POOL.

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This movie allows one to reminisce back to the entrance of teen-dom, but puts a modern spin on it. I’ve no clue what it’s like for 8th graders these days. In my mind, it’s still just as it was when I wandered the halls of my middle school. If the films speaks with accuracy — and I presume it does — then it’s kinda like it was for me, but everyone has a laptop and instead of tornado drills, they have school shooter practice.

For the most part, we see Kayla getting involved in things that we wish she wouldn’t. But to say that I didn’t do the same thing when I was her age would be patently false.

Kayla Day loves her technology. There’s something to be said for the gadgets we have and what they can do, and people tend to be pretty divided on the subject. The younger crowd goes wild for a good Instagram story or new Snapchat filter, while the more seasoned kids are iffy at best on our everything thought hitting the ‘net.

In one of many vulnerable moments of the film, Kayla is browsing her crush’s Insta and doing a little practice kissing on her hand. I used to do practice kissing on my hand, but I never had photos of my love interests; I always just had to remember what they looked like until I saw them at school again.

Caught up in the moment, she doesn’t hear when her dad knocks, and throws her beloved, precious iPhone across the room.

Tragedy!

The screen has a spiderweb crack in it when she picks it up. Shortly thereafter she’s toggling apps and a crack in the screen cuts her finger and draws actual blood, but she scrolls right through the pain. In my opinion, a brilliant illustration of how insidious addiction can be.

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Being diagnosed with Acute Anxiety Disorder as a very young age, my heart breaks for Kayla. Humans without some anxiety fixation will likely feel for her just as deeply. Her analogy of always feeling like she’s in line to ride a roller coaster, but never feeling the exhilaration of actually taking the ride resonates profoundly.

Eighth Grade is a loving gut-punch of a film. The R rating of the film could be construed as a hindrance for persons under 18, or a helpful way to get teens to the theater with their parents or guardians.

Bo Burnham came out of nowhere with this movie. Or so it seemed, to me at least. Apologies to Bo if I’m the only person who didn’t know he was working on this. I’d watched his comedy before and if there’s one thing to be said about the guy, it’s that he’s got no shortage of inventiveness and perspective.

A few years younger than I am, Bo seems to have a firm grasp on the world we live in and the problems it’s got. We’re a confused species, placing importance on things that don’t tend to matter in the long run and all but ignoring the stuff that does. That idea is captured here with frightening accuracy.

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My personal interest and appreciation for Eighth Grade comes from a place that I don’t like to go often; the damage sustained from my own time served in Middle School. It stings. Movies like this give me hope! Elsie Fisher does a flawless portrayal of a young woman looking for her place in the world. The only difference I saw between Kayla and my 13-year-old self was that she seemed a lot more courageous than I ever was. Fisher plays Kayla awkwardly in all the best ways.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I checked out Spotify for the soundtrack to the film and was over the moon to see that the composer is a woman! Rare find, but thrilling! Anna Meredith is her name and this score is sublime. I may have cried a little when I saw that. More female composers!

Anyway, to leave you with some advice from Kayla Day, be yourself, put yourself out, and be CONFIDENT! Gucci!

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