If you still had any doubts about how social media has changed suburban adolescence, check out Bo Burnham’s perceptive, R-rated debut dramedy about angst-riddled Kayla’s last week in middle school.
Shy, lonely 13 year-old Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) spends most waking hours on her iPhone. She’s either checking out Instagram/Snapchat or making YouTube videos, offering advice to a non-existent audience.
“You have to put yourself out there,” she says, “but where is ‘there’?”
Although Kayla claims to be “funny and cool and talkative,” her classmates just voted her “most quiet.” Awkwardly vulnerable and painfully insecure, Kayla yearns to be popular and attract the attention of one particular boy (Luke Prael) in her class.
The highlight of Kayla’s existence comes when she’s paired with exuberant Olivia (Emily Robinson) on the day that middle-schoolers “shadow’ a high-schooler. When Oliva kindly invites her to join pals at the mall that night, Kayla’s content to just sit and watch, listening to their prattle.
But then, as Olivia’s friend (Daniel Zolghadri) drives her home, he challenges her to a game of Truth-or-Dare. That’s when mortified Kayla realizes she’s ‘way out of her sophistication depth.
During this emotionally agonizing period of her life, Kayla’s cared for by her loving single dad, Mark (Josh Hamilton), who does his best to adjust to her inexplicable mood swings.
In a NEW YORKER interview, comedian Bo Burnham notes, “In my adult life, and especially in my stand-up career, I’d felt like the way my anxiety is interfacing with the Internet is very specific and strange. The Internet isn’t helping it. It’s exacerbating it. The Internet means a lot to me, and no one is talking about it correctly.”
Perhaps the 21st century takeaway is: social media is whatever you want it to be. The truth. A lie. Somewhere in-between. But you most control it, instead of allowing it to control you and your self-esteem.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Eighth Grade” is an insightful, excruciating 8. Junior High is horrific, even more brutal than you remember.
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