Eighth Grade, directed by stand up comedian Bo Burnham, is the story of thirteen-year-old Kayla who is just about to graduate from middle school and enter high school. The movie focuses on Kayla’s last few weeks in middle school and truly captures what it is like to be a teenager in our day and age.
Burnham’s movie entirely focuses on Kayla and all her experiences in a short period of time. Kayla’s character is more or less a stereotypical teenager. She is anxious, angry with her dad most of the time, she compares with other people and she depserately tries to fit in. The audience sees Kayla struggle to find her true voice and identity and she creates a YouTube alter ego which she strives to be throughout the movie. On her YouTube channel Kayla posts videos about fitting in and being confident; messages of hope that are not just for her viewers but for herself as well. What was surprising was that Kayla’s character is one of those people who actually do what they say and the audience gets to see Kayla following her own advice, diving into the deep end in a struggle to find a place in this world of middle graders. As a whole Kayla is extremely likeable and it is impossible not to root for her. The same can be said for the supporting characters, too. Kayla’s dad, a single parent doing his best, may at times seem too distant and carefree but he is the comic relief that the movie offers and the audience soon realises that behind this goofy facade is a father who cares deeply for his daughter.
The father-daughter relationship is one of the many topics touched upon. Burnham has created a movie that is easy to watch but that does not mean there are not any important messages. Some of the issues he highlights are universal for any teenager. The struggle to fit in, the daily troubles which seem like the end of the world, the constant anxiety teenagers experience, are all issues that most people experience throughout puberty. However, Eighth Grade deeply focuses on modern technology and social media and the role they play in the life of teenagers. The audience witnesses Kayla’s, as well as any other teenager in the movie, constant obsession with social media. Scene after scene the characters are glued to their phones as social media becomes yet another place where a person needs to fit in and show off. The lack of reaction from Kayla’s dad is somewhat controversial and raises another question as to the role of the parent in relation to the part that social media plays in a growing teenager’s life.
As a whole, Burnham’s movie is a truly enjoyable experience. That is not to say that the movie is perfect. Eighth Grade lacks in terms of cinematic innovation and mind-blowing nascent controversial concepts. However, despite all of this, Eighth Grade truly shines in other aspects. The movie is very easy to watch and the audience gets immediately invested into Kayla’s life. The characters are likeable and very relatable. For the younger viewers Eighth Grade becomes a beacon of hope that eventually puberty will be over and everyone will find their place in the world. For the older audience Kayla’s daily struggles become a bittersweet reminiscence of a time past that should not be forgotten if we are to truly understand and support the younger generations. The topics that Burnham highlights are universal and have been seen in other movies and books but in the end of the day there is nothing wrong with that. Some things need to be discussed time and time again and when done craftily, as is the case of Eighth Grade, spending 94 minutes in a cinema is more than worth it.
For more on the Glasgow Film Festival 2019 click here.