Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade” is Awkward, Uncomfortable and Crucial: Just Like Growing Up

eighth grade

When I was in eighth grade, I had just traded in my glasses for contacts. The switch made me feel like I was coming out of my ‘ugly phase,’ until less than a year later I started wearing braces. I exclusively wore graphic tees from Delia’s with slogans like “Talk Nerdy To Me.” I constantly fought with my mom. I made my first ever Tumblr account, hoarded myself in my basement to talk to my new online friends and listen to new bands.

Like everyone else in eighth grade, I thought nobody understood what I was going through, that everybody else had it figured out, whatever ‘it’ is. Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade” captures that loneliness, that desire to know something more, to be accepted, to be understood.

The movie’s protagonist, Kayla (Elsie Fisher), is a shy girl about to finish middle school, who turns to her webcam and YouTube to speak about her life.

Unlike a lot of films that cast much older actors to play teenagers, Fisher herself is only 15. The movie perfectly captures what it feels like to be in middle school today. Kayla is always on her phone, cast in glowing screen light, scrolling through social media, looking at herself in snapchat filters that wipe away imperfections. The film shows Kayla in her last weeks of middle school, navigating crushes, shyness and a tumultuous relationship with her single dad. Kayla makes YouTube videos talking about topics like confidence, putting yourself out there and growing up, topics the film seamlessly reveals through Kayla’s experiences as a teenager.

The film candidly covers topics that arise in middle school: sex, kissing, body image and relationships with family.

Like most 13-year-olds, Kayla desperately wants a boyfriend. But instead of shying away from adolescents learning about sex, or treating it in a sterile way, the film tackles the topic head on. The film shows all the growing pains and cringe-inducing moments that come with puberty.

But while the film might make you squirm from secondhand embarrassment, it’s also incredibly tender in its honesty. Fisher’s performance captures the hopes and fears of ending middle school and entering high school, wanting to wake up and miraculously be cool, accepted and admired by your peers.

“Eighth Grade” is one of the best growing up movies I’ve seen about the current generation of teenagers. But I still found it relatable to my experience in middle school a decade ago.

Walking out of the movie, it made me want to ask everyone I meet about their middle school experiences. Did everyone at some point attend a pool party where they felt completely out of place, uncomfortable and unpopular? Did everyone else across the nation worship their local mall as the placeĀ to be? A fun easter egg of my viewing was that the exterior shot of the mall Kayla goes to is the actual mall I used to hang out in as a teenager!

I wish that when I was in middle school, something equivalent to “Eighth Grade” existed. Mainly, “Eighth Grade” showed me that adolescence is universal. Despite new technology and social media to change your image, being in middle school is just as embarrassing as it always has been. Although when I was 13, I think I would’ve vehemently denied that I was anything like Kayla. Watching it in a theater at almost 22 years old, I felt understood.

Also published on Medium.