“Eighth Grade” Isn’t the Revolutionary Movie Everyone Says It Is

Elsie Fisher in Bo Burnham's "Eighth Grade."

No matter where you look, the reviews for “Eighth Grade” are almost guaranteed to be glowing. Whether it be the 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes or the Metacritic reviews saying it “represents the middle school experience” and is a “tool for self-discovery,” the hype around this movie is real.

It tells the story of an eighth grade girl, Kayla Day, who struggles to stand out at her middle school. She is nice, but she doesn’t make friends. She is active on social media, but doesn’t have a presence in real life. The movie revolves around Kayla finding herself before she goes to high school, and all the highs and lows that that entails.

Over the summer, I saw the trailer and heard all the positive reviews and found myself caught up in the hysteria. It was written by a comedian who I liked, Bo Burnham. The main character was played by an actual 15-year-old who isn’t very well known, not some 21-year-old celebrity who they try to convince us looks like a middle schooler, so I thought it would be more real.

That being said, I was extremely underwhelmed after leaving the theater. After all of these adults saying that it was relatable and real, I, an actual teenager, left the theater without a single chord being struck. To me, it was just an average movie — cheesy, a bit funny, even cringy at times — but certainly not 98% worthy.

I think the reason that “Eighth Grade” is receiving such praise is because it accurately portrays what parents think their middle school children are going through, not what actual middle school kids deal with. The movie is very much through the lens of the adult: Kayla is always on her phone, she can’t connect with her father, and school still revolves around “mean girl” and “nerd” stereotypes.

One of my least favorite aspects of the movie was the pure awkwardness. I get it; Kayla is awkward, and so the awkward tension is part of understanding her struggle. But the fact that she couldn’t talk without saying “umm” and “like” every other word made it almost unwatchable.

This isn’t to say that I disliked the movie. I quite enjoyed some of the jokes and I thought it dealt with issues like assault and social anxiety pretty well. Overall, however, the effort to make us fall in love with an awkward eighth grader navigating her way through middle school fell flat, especially since any possibility of me falling in love with the character was stifled by her inability to complete a sentence.

So to you, I say if you are a parent, you will probably love “Eighth Grade.” You will see your awkward and loveable child on the screen, and relate to the portrayal of our generation’s social media addiction and of the feeling of disconnect between parent and child during preteen years. To my fellow high schoolers, however, “Eighth Grade” was far too dramatic and unrealistic to really make me relate Kayla’s middle school experience to my own. 

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