Eighth Grade is a brutally honest tale of a young girl’s teenage years and the heartbreak she endures as she grows up.
Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is bullied for how she looks, the way she acts, her personality, everything that makes her who she is. Her story isn’t outlandish or unbelievable. In fact, it’s relatable and full of emotion. She’s not trying to change the world, but instead just go about her everyday life.
We watch Kayla navigate the last week of middle school, as she realises that she hasn’t become the person she thought she would be by this point.
With no friends to speak of and no boyfriend in the picture Kayla comes up with a plan to help her become the popular girl she aspires to be and overcome her crippling social anxiety. To combat her nerves, she launches YouTube vlog about her life, always adding a positive spin to her retelling.
Eighth Grade tackles the difficult subject matter of anxiety and how exhausting living with it can be for some. “I’m always nervous,” Kayla confesses. “I could be doing nothing, and I’m still nervous. It’s like that feeling before you ride a rollercoaster – that stupid butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling. Except that feeling you get after you ride the rollercoaster never comes.”
The online Kayla is confident, liking and commenting on all her classmates’ photos online. But the reality is that for that one “perfect”, seemingly effortless picture Kayla had to take 100 photos to get it just right. Her YouTube channel offers advice to help people become more confident, but all the while you’re aware that Kayla isn’t practicing what she’s preaching.
“It’s not like I’m scared to not talk, I just don’t want to,” she assures us, but when we watch her interact with others it can be painfully awkward to witness. Much of how Kayla is feeling is shown through her body language thanks to Elsie Fisher’s impeccable performance.
We watch as her father tries to be there to support her, but as with most teenager’s parents just ends up embarrassing her or making the situation worse.
Eighth Grade really hit a nerve with me. Unfortunately, most of us were bullied at school, hopefully none to the extent I was. Bullies tormented me for years for my weight and looks, eventually letting the tyres of my wheelchair down. I moved schools soon after.
An article from The Guardian remarks that “More than half of children aged 11 to 16 have been bullied about the way they look, with 40% targeted at least once a week.” Movies like Eighth Grade bring the conversation of bullying and the struggles teenagers face to the surface.
The beauty of Eighth Grade is the overall message, that no matter who you are, the best thing you can do is be yourself. You’ll find your crowd eventually.
By Ruth Walker