Middle school. One of the most excruciatingly awkward times in so many of our lives, a collective experience that feels so alone. It is something that most of us would prefer to never go through again but are forced to in the film, Eighth Grade, an incredibly raw and relatable story of yesteryear struggle.
Released on July 13th, Eighth Grade is Bo Burnham’s first film as both director and writer, and it has already amassed a huge fan base possibly due to its 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
It tells the story of eighth-grader Kayla, played by Elsie Fisher, as she navigates her last week of middle school. Kayla is painfully shy and insecure when interacting in school, to the extent that she is named the “most quiet” as her school superlative. Her only outlet is Youtube, where she makes videos giving life advice that she attempts to use herself.
Burnham used a real middle school to film, showing real teachers and students, and hired actors that are either currently in middle school or have just gone through it themselves. It’s refreshing to see film characters who actually look the age they’re playing, something that is so important, as it helps quell the unrealistic physical expectations that today’s teens face.
Watching the film is painful…but that’s the point. Audiences are dragged into Kayla’s story, and can feel the discomfort she feels, can sympathize with her romantic endeavors, and may even want to help her with her social anxiety and panic attacks, which helps to raise important awareness of mental health topics, especially in the context of adolescence.
What’s significant about this film is that it isn’t a story of someone changing from unpopular and unhappy to popular and happy. Instead, it tells the story of someone becoming more of who they truly are, and finding happiness without modifying themselves so that they look like every other popular teenage character.
Because hey, maybe awkward middle schoolers deserve love, too.