The movie Eighth Grade opens with a video from the main character, Kayla. It’s is a rant about “being yourself” filled with “ums” and “likes” and sets the awkward tone for the film, which is filled with moments that will make you wince.
But a movie about the last week of middle school SHOULD feel awkward. We all remember how nervous we were back then, and that’s what makes Eighth Grade so perfectly relatable.
The film is written and directed by Bo Burnham, popular comedian and actor. Burnham also used to post videos on YouTube, and was still in high school when the satirical songs he posted went viral. He wanted to tell this story about anxiety, and how it relates to this current generation of tweens and teens.
“I was feeling a very acute anxiety from my job of performing,” Burnham told NPR. “And then I would talk about those problems in that circumstance onstage and afterwards kids—14-, 13-year-old girls—would come up to me and say, ‘I know exactly what you’re going through. I’m going through it, too.'”
In the film, it quickly becomes clear that Kayla feels more comfortable on camera or on her phone than she does in real-life social situations. Face-to-face interaction is tougher for Kayla. At school, she is much more reserved and even voted to be Most Quiet.
Social media is her way of interacting with her peers in a way in which she’s not held back by her anxiety. Being on SnapChat and Instagram is much easier; she can crop and filter her image, or delete the first draft of a comment or a text. There is a sense of control she has over her online presence that she’s missing in reality, where everything is filled with the anxiety and fears we all felt at that age.
For anyone with anxiety, this movie is painfully relatable. The awkward moments are so intense, they make you want to hide. But they’re also what make it so real.
As a woman, I found the film filled with moments that reminded me of my own cringe-worthy memories. Including what it’s like to want to impress your crush, and the opposite extreme: what it’s like to have to fend off against unwanted sexual advancements.
This film made me realize that this is the narrative we haven’t been focusing on enough: young girls growing up in the age of social media. There is a sense of advanced sexuality that the internet has ushered in (access to porn, expectations for “nudes,” etc.). There are also more instances of cyberbullying and living up to the expectations set by everyone else’s “perfect” lives they present on Instagram.
What was always a difficult time in adolescence has become even more complicated now that everyone has smartphones and is online 24/7. Eighth Grade gets something so incredibly right about what it’s like to grow up as a young girl in today’s world.
It’s a perspective that we’re lucky to get a glimpse of so we can better understand it. And with any luck, better understand our kids.