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From our hearts and our heads

The Movie “Eighth Grade” Hits Home

LIFEEighth grade can be tough. It’s the threshold between so many things: childhood and the very beginning of adulthood, middle school and high school, having someone be in charge of you and being in charge of yourself, figuring yourself out and knowing who you are, a body that’s familiar and a body that seems to change a little bit more every day. With all of that can come excitement, anxiety, confusion, triumph, and hope. This A to Z of what it feels like to be in the in between is something that the movie Eighth Grade captures perfectly—so perfectly, in fact that it can bring back some emotional memories for moviegoers who’ve already lived through this moment of life.

[Spoilers ahead] The movie follows protagonist Kayla as she navigates the last week of middle school and prepares to transition into her high school years. The viewer meets a few different versions of Kayla depending on the scene. She’s awkward and anxious at school—so much the wallflower kid that she even wins the class superlative of “most quiet,” and shrinks in her seat at the announcement—but inside she doesn’t feel that way. Kayla has a whole other life that she portrays through uplifting and motivational YouTube videos that encourage viewers to put themselves out there, take risks, be confident, and other missives that seem to be directed at herself as much as anyone else. This bent to the movie puts a huge magnifying glass on the stress that social media can put on teens to portray themselves in an idealized way, even if that’s not how they’re actually living their lives.

The movie also highlights in astonishing detail the lengths that young women will go through to achieve the perfect selfie, as we watch Kayla get out of the bed in the morning, apply a full face of makeup, and then get back under the covers to pose for a “Woke up like this!” selfie before firing it off to Snapchat. In this scene, and others like it, it becomes clear how much external pressure there is to seem perfect even when, for example, everyone’s faces are covered in acne.

We also see Kayla dealing with cliques, standing her ground when it comes to her comfort level with physical intimacy, navigating her relationship with a parent as she swings somewhere between needing help and learning to be independent, and hanging onto the kid version of Kayla as she becomes young adult Kayla.

But we also see Kayla start to come into her own, find safety and comfort in people who see her and bring out her best self, and look forward to the future—high school in the short term, but also beyond that. In the end, if this movie is about any one thing it’s about how hard it is to be in eighth grade, but about how universal the experience is and how much more is out there waiting if you keep your head up and stay true to yourself.