There are too many middle-school and high-school themed films out there exploring or simply displaying bullying. In an interesting change, the 2018 movie ‘Eighth Grade’ written and directed by Bo Burnham doesn’t really have blatant bullying, yet manages to make adult viewers wonder – “is middle-school so hard?”.
Plot overview – Kayla Day has no friends and is the ‘quietest kid’ in her class, so she takes to YouTube to express herself, where she pretends to have a great social life. But with eighth-grade coming to an end, she hopes to re-invent herself in real life.
Elsie Fisher plays the introverted teen Kayla with painful perfection, a believable regular middle-grader, with puberty written all over her. She is nothing like the model-like teen protagonists we are used to seeing onscreen and THANK the makers for that. Josh Hamilton who plays Kayla’s dad is a flag-bearer for all the single-dads out there in the world, who do their best to be friends to their teens, but the generation gap makes it uncomfortably difficult. The dad-daughter relationship would definitely hit a chord with many.
‘Eighth Grade’ is an exceedingly real representation of the anxieties, angst, self-loathing, isolation introverted teens face, it’s the kind of representation a lot of kids would relate to, but ironically, it has an ‘R’ rating due to some sexual content. The authenticity of the movie is a double-edged sword, while some may like the near frustrating experiences of the protagonist, others might find it tedious or boring.
Since Kayla has zero friends, the film cleverly uses her YouTube videos to carry the narration forward, it also makes for a fun juxtaposition – on video she might be giving tips about how to come out of one’s comfort zone, but in reality, she is unable to take her own advice. The background score is also an important element of the plot, used to reflect Kayla’s feelings. The ambient music in-fact is a character in itself, drumming up to the emotions of moment.
Through the film, I felt a little underwhelmed, not in the ‘oh this movie is disappointing’ kind of way, but more like ‘this feels excruciatingly real and is almost embarrassing to watch in parts’. It has the air of a docu-drama and the climax is a fitting closure to Kayla’s middle-school days.
It’s a 7/10 from me. The film is available to stream on Netflix.
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