There are very few films marketed toward middle schoolers. Well, that's not true. There are not many good films created for middle schoolers. Most films made for those between the ages of 11 and 14, are Disney Channel Originals, or American girl doll retellings. These films, while usually sweet, warm, and end happily, rarely feel realistic and capture the horror that is middle school for most.
If you happened to be in a Fairfield, Connecticut movie theater last week, you probably would've seen (or heard) me crying while watching Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham's first film. I wasn't crying because the film was heartbreakingly tragic (although at times it certainly is), in fact, the film is uproariously funny, I was crying because the film perfectly encapsulated the way I felt during middle school. The anxiety, the awkwardness, the uncomfortable health videos, were all so palpable in the film that I was transported back to my time as a middle schooler.
Eighth Grade centers around, Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher), a shy girl, who is two weeks away from graduating middle school. Kayla suffers from near-crippling anxiety, every conversation showcases her desperation to be liked and accepted. Her only sources of comfort are her single dad Mark (Josh Hamilton), and weekly youtube videos she uploads, for little to no viewers.
Most films targeted toward youths are overly simplistic, dealing in absolutes. Social media is bad, bullying is wrong, everyone should love everyone. Burnham explores the gray area remarkably well. He doesn't condemn the world we live in, with the internet, social media, and worryingly rapid attention spans, but rather acknowledges that everything that has strength and weaknesses.
The movie does end on an up note, with the protagonist gaining a bit of confidence and finding a new friend, but its tone is less optimistic. The film's basic message is that middle school is difficult and some will struggle more than others, but hopefully, things will get better. I don't know what makes this movie so relatable whether it's Fisher's revelatory performance or Burnham's unnerving insight into the world of middle schooler's. Whatever it is, it makes one great film.