Puberty in the Smartphone Era is a Living Hell | ‘Eighth Grade’ Review

Bo Burnham’s directorial debut is certainty a memorable one, as his opening film, “Eighth Grade,” which is a coming of age tale about an eighth grader transitioning to high school, has racked up accolades and reignited the genre of adolescent dramadies at the box office.  

Burnham is most renown for his comedic stand up, where he talks about in great lengths about his anxiety, which inspired him to pen the script for “Eighth Grade,” which covers a time laden with anxiety and uncertainty, especially in the smartphone era. 

The film follows eighth grader Kayla (Elsie Fisher) as she prepares to transition into high school, sitting at the crossroads of childhood and the beginnings of adulthood, presumably in the year 2017. Kayla faces familiar challenges of fitting in, dealing with popularity and puberty, and not-so-familiar challenges instigated by the new technology at her fingertips which, while connecting her to others in ways previously not possible, has made her lonely. 

While social media is portrayed as a means of expression, it mostly serves to perpetuate the isolation, depression and anxiety of the film’s lead.

Kayla finds comfort in social media, and the scenes with her on her phone are accompanied by uplifting music, and she runs a YouTube channel that feels like it authentically is run by an eighth grader, that presumably no one watches. Kayla puts herself out there in many ways, but fails to receive much attention or validation, and part of the film is about her dealing with that, overcoming her isolation and learning to have confidence in herself. 

“Eighth Grade” is very slice of life in many ways, as its biggest strengths are its extremely well-directed scenes that perfectly capture what it’s like to be in eighth grade, specifically the perception children have of themselves during this time, which isn’t something that’s easy to capture on film. The crass comedy, “Good Boys” arguably writes its child characters well, but that film’s narrative is framed from an adult’s outlook. “Eighth Grade” is framed in the opposite manner, allowing adult viewers to understand how Kayla thinks and what she’s going through while also contrasting it with their own outlooks on the film’s narrative. 

There is certainty an argument to be found about the negative effects social media has on minors in this film, as Burnham portrays it as something that, while it allows Kayla to express herself, mostly serves to amplify and perpetuate her isolation, depression and anxiety by injecting her perceptions of reality with superficiality that is repeatedly broken down throughout the film, much to her disappointment.  

Mostly, “Eighth Grade” is about pulling down the rose colored glasses you have of the world as a child and getting your first real glimpse of the ugly, real world, and learning how to cope with it —  all portrayed in an honest, unapologetic manner. 

Needless to say, this is a film you should check out. 

“Eighth Grade” gets an 8.5/10

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