Adolescence is agonising enough; your body is changing, and you probably hate the way you look so the last thing you want is hundreds of people zooming in on every imperfection and criticising your every move. However, that is the world most young people are living in now and the world of Kayla Day, played brilliantly by Elsie Fisher. Eighth Grade is internet star and comedian Bo Burnham’s directorial debut and is a coming of age story about the socially anxious Kayla Day but is more so an attempt to subvert the mainstream perception of Generation Z as conceited and media obsessed and show them as self-conscious and self-criticising.
When discussing the film, Burnham described it as a story about the post-millennial generation who are “forced by a culture they did not create to be conscious of themselves at any moment”. Kids nowadays have access to a myriad of platforms from which they can create perfect versions of themselves. Kayla’s online persona is that of a confident and talkative kid, one who gives advice on “how to be yourself” and “how to be confident” and the fact that no one is watching her videos does not deter Kayla from making them, but rather reveals that she is using these channels to talk to herself and talk about the anxieties she is struggling with.
Eighth Grade could have easily fallen into the trap of criticising social media and the younger generations, instead of mischaracterisation Bo Burnham has made a film that is filled with so much compassion and empathy for its subject that it is clear that Burnham has listened, paid attention and cares so deeply about these characters. This feels like a film that understands the world that it is depicting. With his comedic background, Burnham is able to create hilarious set pieces, which are counterbalanced with equally as well-crafted moments of pure awkwardness and cringe that every young adult has gone through, and every young teenager will inevitably go through.
The theme of youthful isolation and exclusion is not a new concept within the cinematic realm of coming of age films, what sets Eighth Grade apart is that it take a modern approach to the tried and tested high school film and not in an over the top, graphic, ‘Reality High’ way, but has a more observant and nuanced approach. With so many films circulating about growing up, Eighth Grade manages to stand out from the crowd and make a story clearly about Kayla, feel as though it is about you. We live in a world that demands we hold our lives up for judgement. All the worlds a stage is an outdated saying now, the internet has taken over and everyone is watching, judging and waiting for you to slip up. Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is a masterful exploration of this concept and is a must watch film for cinema goers of all ages.
By Emily Parry
Image courtesy of The Manchester Journal