I have never told this story before, so here goes: One day in eighth grade I sat in the middle of my English class watching a movie. It was there, in the middle of the whispers amongst children and the passing of the notes back and forth that I gathered all the strength I had slowly picked up throughout my short life and I wrote a note. One sentence that carried the tiniest piece of my heart was written on that paper and I somehow found enough courage to pass it to the boy next to me. The boy that I constantly stared at, the boy who stopped my tiny world every single time he walked into class, the boy who had the nicest hair and the warmest smile.
My shaky hand reached over and placed the note on his desk; my head throbbed and I was short of breath as I tried my hardest to pay attention to the movie we were watching. Though my focus was on the TV in front of us, I noticed when he opened the note. My heart stopped when he picked up his pen to write something down and then he passed the note back to me. I tried to keep my hands from shaking as I opened it and then … my tiny eighth grade heart broke for the first time.
ME: I have a crush on you.
Him: Sorry. I don’t think you’re pretty.
Eighth grade was a bitch of time.
How did Bo Burnham beautifully capture the complicated and beautiful journey that happens when you go through eighth grade?
I still don’t have the answer to that, but I find myself grateful for the film Eighth Grade. This coming-of-age story follows thirteen-year-old Kayla as she awkwardly goes through eighth grade. Though this thirteen-year-old experiences eighth grade a bit differently than I did, my experience was devoid of social media and cell phones, I still found myself absolutely relating. The journey is led by Elsie Fisher, who plays Kayla, she portrays the awkward in such a genuine and tender way that I often found myself wanting to reach into the screen to remind her that it will eventually get so much better.
With this film, Bo Burnham has reminded us all, that the most difficult part about growing up is the ability to let your mind run wild. To witness this internal struggle that Kayla has to be liked, to be herself and to be someone better than who she thinks she is, all at the same time was refreshing. It’s the anxiety that jumps from the screen and grabs your entire attention. It’s the anxiety that caused me to sink into my seat until I could barely see the screen.
This film felt intimate; the beautiful shots accompanied by Elsie’s acting felt like I was standing in an empty room with Kayla at all times. It felt like I was invading privacy and yet I couldn’t help but follow along for the journey. Though it often made me feel uncomfortable, Eighth Grade was a beautiful exploration of feelings and experiences that I thought I had completely moved past. I found myself having painful flashbacks, I discovered a new perspective on things thirteen-year-old Julie did, I celebrated the lessons I have learned since and I commend Bo Burnham for this 94 minute therapy session he has created.
There’s a scene in particular that stuck with me well after the film was over; [SPOILER AHEAD] Kayla finds herself alone in a car with a High School boy. The boy sees how vulnerable Kayla is and uses the opportunity to try to take advantage of her, he tries to convince her to take her shirt off and suddenly I was a teenager again and I could feel the butterflies in my stomach trying to convince me to run out of that car. Elsie played this scene perfectly, you can feel her nervousness, you get uncomfortable when she tries to laugh off his advances and you cheer for her when she finds the bravery that it takes to tell him NO. This scene is important.
Unfortunately, we don’t all find our voice in time; some of us get lost in the nervous giggles. Some of us get overwhelmed by the wave of uneasy energy inside of that car. Some of us don’t find the bravery in time.
This film is necessary.
At a time when society finds a reason to fight with each other every single day, Eighth Grade finds a way to bring everyone together by way of awkward silences and things you wish you hadn’t said out loud. This film is truly a gift and Bo Burnham is the best kind of Santa Claus … I tried to go somewhere with that, let me be.
Eighth Grade is now open Nationwide and I urge you to get out and watch it as soon as possible.
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