The majority of my eighth grade memories involve moments of immense anxiety—largely related to socializing—which happens to align perfectly with my memories of right now. Comedian Bo Burnham’s directorial feature debut Eighth Grade, which I got a chance to see at Sundance, picks up on and projects many of the fears and quirks of not only being a teenager living among teenagers, but of growing up in a world with social media.
The protagonist of the story is 13-year-old Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher), a sweet, well-meaning eighth grader who, as A24 studio summarizes, “endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school.” On the surface, this is another coming-of-age film about middle school awkwardness, but what I found myself relating to was the new kind of pressure on Kayla to form a physical and digital self she herself deems worthy, while dealing with the usual teenage outside elements.
In the trailer, we catch her filming a YouTube video about “Being Yourself”—“A lot of people, like, call me quiet or shy or whatever. But I’m not quiet,” she says, before being voted Most Quiet at school.
During a Q&A at Sundance, Burnham—who launched his own career on YouTube in the mid aughts—talked about how teen girl characters can be the perfect conduit to reflect our anxieties and, indeed, I hadn’t previously seen a movie that synthesized teen angst and the anxiety of the Snapchat era so well without reading corny. The movie manages to balance being sweet, awkward, and self-aware, while showing how the internet is synonymous with the crippling social structures of adolescence. I highly recommend watching this when it opens (in select theaters) on July 13.