Eighth Grade. Wanted to Relate but Couldn't
I'd wanted to see Bo Burnham's directorial debut based on the trailer, but from the get-go I was pretty sure I wouldn't totally relate to the main character. Kayla Day isn't entirely cookie cutter, and she's played by the gorgeous Elsie Fisher, in a zits and all portrayal of a girl about to enter high school. There were darker turns in this I was moved by, but the dialogue overall wasn't incredibly convincing between the father character and Kayla. The film's representation of current teenage life couldn't be relatable to someone like me who was spared the disaster of social media in high school. Most people my age are grateful the advent of smartphones was well past our high school graduation. Owning a computer wasn't even a priority for most families and hardly anyone in my senior year was that computer literate compared to eighteen year olds now.
The internet was still a novelty when I was leaving school, and I had my own struggles with it, but when Kayla was lost in her social media world, the haunting tones of Enya's Orinoco Flow playing over her screen time, I clicked with her. At twelve I genuinely wished I had an Enya song playing in my life all the time; I lived in music and my own stories, ignoring other kids and failing to make connections while wishing I was someone else. But then I left Kayla and it was harder to be engaged with her struggle. I did get panicky before going out to socialise, not that I suffered genuine panic attacks. I just wasn't desperate for friends. I was desperate to be left alone. I made no real effort to make connections I was either spoken to or ignored or ridiculed. I was pretty much branded a freak from my behaviour anyway. Kayla doesn't earn much ridicule for being super quiet, but some of her actions would've actually gotten her teased back in the day, like giving the snobby Kennedy a thank you letter after her party then deriding her at the end of the film for the inevitable snubbing. I would have longed to have the level of indifference Kayla received from her peers. People didn't like her but they left her alone. My weirdness didn't go unpunished by any means. And if I'd had a smartphone with Facebook, I'd have had the bullies in my face outside of school. I already had someone faceless making my life miserable by the end of school, so it was hard enough having so-called friends giving me as much grief in person.
Eighth Grade offers such a refreshing portrayal of teenage life with genuine teens in it, something everyone longs for but struggles to really accept when presented, because we're not ready for the realness we crave from our media. The casting is on point, but I wasn't engaged with this as I wished I could be. It's not something I want to go back to, and some of the soundtrack was loud and distracting, intended to evoke tension but going past the point of annoying. I wouldn't take this review as gospel. Please go and see it because it's genuinely very good. The only other thing I found less believable was the kid jerkin' it during sex ed. This could very well have happened, but kids at my school must've been markedly repressed by comparison, meaning we didn't do this in public. Again, this is me not finding much common ground with the film, not a slight on the film itself. I'm disappointed with myself for not loving it, not with the movie.