I probably should preface this article by saying I went to this movie with my parents because it is an R-rated film, but my younger sister, the same age as the main character, came along. My sister’s insight into the dramatic comedy was fairly brief as far as thoughts on movies go, which was quite the contrast to the hour-long conversation that occurred between my step-mom and me about the film. However, my sister and I did agree that Burnham’s Eighth Grade, although stunningly beautiful, is so intensely accurate that it is truly painful to watch.
Eighth Grade tracks the progress of Kayla, an aspiring how-to Youtuber with a single father, and the end of her eighth grade year. Her life plays out in the most awkward, adolescent way possible and is hilariously interspersed with snippets of her Youtube videos, in which she gives advice that she cannot manage to take. With deadly accuracy, Elsie Fisher’s portrayal of Kayla gives viewers a much-needed insight to life as a normal eighth grade girl.
By far, Eighth Grade is the most contradictory, controversial movie I have ever seen. It is packed full of humor and tragedy, truth and falsity, curses and consolation. It leaves the viewers unified yet isolated with infinite interpretations that cross every sociological barrier. From the eyes of a once-single parent and a middle school teacher, Kayla’s search for identity and growth is something worth protecting, whether by her father, who tries his best, or by herself. According to the teacher, my step-mom, Kayla’s actions come from a place of hope for the future. She lies about her romantic life in order to seem experienced in front of the boy she likes. She blocks her father from her life in the beginning in order to keep up with her more popular peers. Kayla, like most all of us, wants to be better, even though her version of better might be a bit skewed in the beginning. But what better is, and what one takes from the film, depends on the viewer. Without a doubt, Eighth Grade’s impact is as diverse as its audience, effectively making a space for an incredibly realistic film in the sea of happy-ending, youthful, coming-of-age stories.
As a young creator, Kayla’s narrative is both humbling and refreshing with her attempt to create her brand and gain traction as a Youtuber. She’s just like millions of other makers out in the world: not exactly successful. Throughout the film, her channel does not take off. She does not become popular or famous. Likewise, she never fails spectacularly. Kayla works through her issues as they arise, both stumbling and sprinting, but never completely failing or flying. Her story is like most of ours in that every hill looks like a mountain until she has climbed it.
I suppose that what makes Burnham’s film so revolutionary is the normalcy behind it all. He created something concrete, something tangible, something real. Kayla’s story is fiction, but every up and down in her 94 minute plotline is the truth. It’s school and friends and relationships. It’s family and media and society. It is both a comfort zone and everything outside of one. Eighth Grade is a video of real life, and it is unapologetically, authentically rated R.