Bo Burnham’s new film, Eighth Grade, is finally in theaters all over the country. While the story follows young Kayla Day as she white-knuckles her way through the final days of middle school, with an MPAA rating of R, this movie is definitely for mature audiences. Specifically, millennials.
Eighth Grade earned its rating for language and some sexual material, but it’s not your typical tale of lusty teens trying to mash body parts against each other. The script includes strong language because that is how teens talk. It includes sexual material because that is what teens think about. And here, we find both the appeal and repulsion of this film. It is unflinchingly, brutally honest about that uncomfortable time in life when we’re all just trying to figure out how to be human.
Living through eighth grade was hard enough. Experiencing it all over again in movie form is cringe-inducing and horrifying. I made it through those years already, I have earned my right never to experience these feelings again. But, there is redemption in the honesty and catharsis in the discomfort. Kayla Day isn’t a shiny, slinky pre-woman sexpot bursting with charisma and ennui. She is just like us; simultaneously basic and special, plus everything that is profoundly real.
Anxiety is her biggest struggle.
Only psychopaths are completely confident during puberty. Hell, only psychopaths are completely confident as adults. Kayla powers through panic attacks and freezes when she’s physically threatened, reminding us of our own terrifying experiences as we first confronted social pressures and ill-intent. Her ultimate triumph of resilience is assurance that grace under pressure is not as important as tenacity and the hope that gives us the strength to keep going.
She’s cool, even if she doesn’t know what that means.
Kayla’s dad spends an awkward dinner conversation trying to convince her that she is cool, and it is so very cringey. He’s right, though. Just like all of us, Kayla navigates the world in her own interesting way. The only time she isn’t cool is when she tries to emulate someone else. It is when we trust our own voice that we have the most to offer the world.
Every moment is a triumph.
Whether she’s telling off a bully or making new friends, Kayla experiences everything for the first time as a newly minted teen, and it is terrifying. We all went through the teenage years, and nothing much has changed in adulthood. We still live in worlds made up of a million little moments. Maybe now, it’s asking for a raise or going on a blind date. Those moments are our lives, and they still matter.
She keeps trying.
Passion, by definition, makes us vulnerable. Society may value innovation as a rule, but no one talks about the self-doubt and nay-saying that predicates success stories. In a world built on the currency of social media stats, it is easy to feel insignificant. But, no matter the numbers, Kayla keeps trying, and we do, too.
As teens, we were all told the same unacceptable truths: our experiences were not solitary, and it would all get better soon. As a generation learning ad hoc how to become adults in a brave new “social media world,” we need to internalize those truths now just as much as we did in eighth grade. We are not alone. We are all Kayla Day. And it is going to be OK.
Featured Photo via Eighth Grade