Sure, some of it might be a little exaggerated - most teenagers I know have at least a few close friends and are able to have a civil conversation with our parents - but none of it feels contrived or otherwise outside of the norm.
Sadie Bograd, KY, Sophomore
Don’t get me wrong - I love high school movies. From Mean Girls to Clueless, High School Musical to The Breakfast Club, I’m always ready to curl up with my laptop or at a sleepover and fall into the story of a popular (or “interestingly quirky”) girl finding her one true love at the tender age of sixteen. But no matter how beloved, I’ve never been able to fully immerse myself in these films, because they’ve always felt fake. As a high schooler myself, I know I look nothing like a 25-year-old Rachel McAdams or even a 17-year-old Vanessa Hudgens with a perfectly curated outfit and carefully styled haircut. I don’t have a boyfriend at all, much less one as dreamy as Zac Efron, and I’ve never had the kind of whirlwind romance that goes from introduction to passionately making out in the course of a single detention. Although my occasional pimples and perpetual singleness are not uncommon among my peers, they’d be completely out of place in the average movie about “teenagers.” Of course, movies aren’t expected to totally reflect reality. We watch them for an escape from our daily lives, a reminder that the world can turn out all right. But in a story where even the biggest outcasts are capable of constant witty repartee and no one ends the story alone, the heartwarming sensation I get watching a film can quickly transform into a sense of loss and confusion when I reflect on my own comparatively miserable life. Perhaps surprisingly for a girl my age, I actually enjoy my life, my friends, and my school. A constant barrage of high school movies can create an unhealthy standard for comparison that leaves me ultimately feeling worse off.
That’s where Eighth Grade comes in. Unlike legitimately every other movie I have ever seen before, not a single moment of the film felt fake or forced. Protagonist Kayla (played by the remarkable Elsie Fisher) is awkward and silent in a way that resonates with the uncomfortable conversations I’ve had many a time, so notably absent from typical high school movies. It’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only one who doesn’t make friends instantaneously, or who can’t (or won’t) rattle off hilariously biting insults at a moment’s notice. Kayla’s dad is dorky without being farcical, her emotions are intense without being constantly on display, and her friendships (or lack thereof) were utterly relatable. Sure, some of it might be a little exaggerated - most teenagers I know have at least a few close friends and are able to have a civil conversation with our parents - but none of it feels contrived or otherwise outside of the norm. Kayla is the most accurate representation of an adolescent I’ve seen on-screen to date, and if that makes her conversation a little less intellectually stimulating, it’s all the more endearing to watch. Combined with Bo Burnham’s masterful directing, Eighth Grade is a movie that proves you don’t have to become a popular, perfect princess to get your own happy ending.
Ava Rowse, MD, Sophmore
Eighth Grade, written and directed by Bo Burnham is a heart-warming and relatable coming of age story. Kayla Day, the eighth grader struggling to fit in and be confidence becomes a motivational hero for anyone who’s experienced embarrassment, anxiety or frankly, middle school, whether or not you came out unscathed. Middle school is a social marathon, when it seems every clique is altered on the hour. In eighth grade, the fear of high school adds onto the stress of just surviving these years. Throughout the movie Kayla shows two sides of herself; the quiet, self conscious, outsider who merely wants school to end, and the empowered and selfless champion making videos for others struggling. It is easier to watch Kayla overcome her personal battles, yet the fact that Eighth Grade validates the awkwardness that accompanies any adolescent's success is exactly what distinguishes it from other teenage tales. Although timid, lonely Kayla appears more often, when she emerges from her shell, she a powerhouse in her own right and serves as an inspiration for fans. Elsie Fisher, the actress playing Kayla never stepped out of character, giving the viewers an opportunity to genuinely feel the emotions she’s portraying. There wasn’t a moment when I doubted her concerns were valid or when I didn’t feel empathy for Kayla. The feelings that were emanated were raw and true, so I occasionally cringed from looking back on my own eighth grade days. The movie was still relatable, yet I may have appreciated it more watching it as a sophomore than I would have if I were in eighth grade because I don’t have the same pressures as I did and I’ve grown from experiences since. Watching, I was struck by the pride I felt in Kayla, even though I am just few years older. The videography had an unprofessional, vlog type feel. I enjoyed the shakily filmed scenes, making me feel as if I was just another Suffern Middle student, fully integrated in the movie. Not only do I admire and empathize with Kayla, I truly understand her.
Thank you to jGirls Magazine for contributing this content.
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