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Film / Eighth Grade

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"Growing up can be a little bit scary and weird."
Kayla Day

Eighth Grade is a 2018 American coming-of-age comedy-drama film notable for being the feature-length debut of musical comedian Bo Burnham as a director and writer. The film premiered on January 19, 2018 as part of that year's Sundance Film Festival before receiving an official theatrical release by A24 on July 13 of that year.

It focuses on the life of eighth-grader Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) as she navigates her last week of middle school and struggles to prepare herself for high school. She spends her days surfing the internet on her phone and trying to make friends while posting barely-seen motivational videos to her YouTube channel. As she attempts to branch out and connect with kids her age, her single father attempts to connect with her.

Burnham based the initial idea for the film on his own struggles with anxiety, and decided to use Kayla to convey his experiences and explore how Generation Z navigates the modern coming-of-age process. In doing so, he strove for realism, which included casting and seeking input from actual eighth graders and including mature topics faced by that age group. To that end, the MPAA gave the film an R rating upon release that elicited controversy as it would prevent eighth graders from seeing it; in response, A24 organized completely free unrated screenings across the US.

Eighth Grade contains examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: It appears briefly as though the film is going to take a darker turn when Kayla attracts Aiden's attention by telling him she has naked selfies on her phone that she plans to give to the next guy who becomes her boyfriend, but after he asks her whether she does blowjobs, she finds she cannot even practice on a banana, and the plot arc disappears from the story.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Aiden and Riley. The former, mostly innocently; the latter, not so much.
  • Alpha Bitch: Kennedy.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Kayla's dad stalks her at the mall and is caught by her friends, much to her embarrassment, and is so embarrassing at home with his attempts to convince her You Are Better Than You Think You Are that Kayla has to negotiate with him that on Fridays she gets to do whatever she wants at the dinner table, which means ignore him in favor of her phone.
  • Apologises a Lot: Kayla does this in the car to the boy who tried to feel her up. He gets annoyed by it.
  • Bait-and-Switch: As everyone waits in line at graduation, Aiden suddenly breaks from his spot and leaves. Kayla then does the same, initially seeming to be following him, but instead stopping to give Kennedy a "Reason You Suck" Speech, representing her self-development in shedding her childish attraction to a less-than-desirable guy and learning to stand up for herself.
    • The social dynamics at play during the mall meetup put a twist on the Riley incident. It's not the crass and thoughtless Trevor that Kayla has to watch out for, but his affable and unassuming friend, with whom she struck a slight Commonality Connection.
  • Bait the Dog: Zigzagged with Kayla's crush, Aiden. He's entirely neutral with her at the pool party, but another girl picks up on this infatuation and warns Kayla that he's only interested in nudes. Kayla absorbs the opposite lesson and makes him privy to the existence of a dirty pictures folder on her phone that she'd be willing to share with a boyfriend. He's enticed at the prospect, and pushes for details of other sexual activity she's engaged in, but Kayla thinks better of acting on it and Aiden makes no active effort to pursue the topic. While decidedly not a great guy to date, he's ultimately just a harmless, horny kid.
  • Betty and Veronica: A downplayed early adolescent version, with Gabe as Betty and Aiden as Veronica.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • Kayla, having been caught by her father about to practice fellatio on a banana, tries to sell the idea that she was planning to eat it, a pretense she cannot keep up because her dislike of bananas is legendary.
    • It's also obvious she's lying when she claims to have gotten to third base during truth or dare.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Played dramatically, as Kayla consistently ignores and reprimands her father when he attempts to connect with her. Kennedy is more of a straight example.
  • Bumbling Dad: Kayla's dad's attempts to connect with his daughter mostly fall flat, but they're primarily Played for Laughs, which makes a genuine moment of connection between them towards the end of the movie all the sweeter.
  • Campfire Character Exploration: The movie culminates in a heartwarming scene around a fire in the backyard where Kayla's father delivers his You Are Better Than You Think You Are speech and both hug.
  • Captain Obvious: Kayla degenerates to this when she can't think of anything better to say. She tells Aiden "Sometimes my phone runs out of batteries, too!" And tells Kennedy "I have a shirt, too!"
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: In the mood-setting montage at the beginning of the film a boy in Kayla's class is caught masturbating vigorously as the class watches a sex ed video.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A minor example. We see the SpongeBob figurine from Kayla's time capsule very early in the movie. It isn't until much later that she pulls it in half and reveals to the audience that it's a USB drive, which contains a video message from her younger self.
  • Coming of Age Story: On a small scale, since it only follows Kayla over the course of a few days, but she learns a lot about growing up over this short period.
  • Cool Big Sis: Olivia fills this role for Kayla.
  • Does Not Like Spam: Kayla does not like bananas. She only had one so she could practice giving a blowjob, then tried to cover for it.
  • Embarrassment Plot: the overarching theme of the film is how embarrassing every aspect of life is as an eighth grader, from social relationships and burgeoning sexuality to relationships with one's parents.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Kayla towards Aiden, both in person and when looking at his Instagram posts. In the latter case, she lingers over a post that shows him shirtless and flexing his bicep.
  • Feedback Rule: When the class superlatives are announced, both speakers start with a microphone feedback.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: While driving Kayla home, Riley claims he Olivia are best friends, which wasn't really apparent at the mall. He likely picked up on Kayla's hero worship of the older girl and played up their closeness to put her at ease.
  • Fish out of Water: Observed by Olivia's friend Trevor when Kayla hangs with them at the mall, although her discomfort seems to stem more from social anxiety than the alleged generational gap. Played for Drama not long afterwards, when Kayla is so mortified at rejecting Riley's sexual advances that she begs him to secrecy. Were she the age of her attempted seductor, she'd probably know that the shame is entirely his, and that she's not the one who'd fall in Olivia's estimation.
  • Friendless Background: We see early in the film that Kayla routinely gets few or zero views on her youtube videos, and until Gabe befriends her at the pool party there's no evidence she has any friends at all.
  • Hair Flip: Aiden has a slow-motion hair flip at the pool party.
  • Headphones Equal Isolation: Aiden uses this, and Kayla tries it when eating dinner with her father.
  • Homage: Kayla has a signed Playbill for Bring It On.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Most of the cast is a more realistic take on this trope.
  • Hypocrite: On her channel Kayla is handing out advice about how to Be Yourself and to be more confident, things she can't seem to apply to her own life. She admits to that fact in her last clip.
  • I Have This Friend: In one of her YouTube videos, Kayla talks about a "friend" who everyone thought was kind of weird, but then she came out of her shell a bit and people got to know her a little better and found out she was really cool. As we cut to Kayla walking up to Kennedy's house for the pool party, it's pretty clear that she's talking about herself, and how she hopes this party will go for her.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: When Kayla is writing a list of her aspirations we see that half her list is variations on this theme (plus the desire to get a boyfriend).
  • Karma Houdini: Riley suffers no consequences for sexually harassing Kayla, she even begs him to keep the incident a secret.
  • Kissing Warm-Up: Kayla's dad enters her bedroom unexpectedly as she is kissing her hand while watching Instagram videos of Aiden and listening to "Orinoco Flow" by Enya, causing her to panic and throw her phone across the room, breaking its screen. Because Kayla is such a Phoneaholic Teenager the audience is then reminded of the incident through the rest of the film by the constant view of the broken phone screen.
  • Let the Past Burn: Kayla decides to burn the shoebox holding her hopes and dreams.
  • Like Is, Like, a Comma: Kayla during her YouTube videos.
  • Logo Joke: In the trailer, the A24 logo is displayed as a clicked-on YouTube video.
  • Missing Mom: Kayla's father mentions that her mom left the family when she was little.
  • Most Writers Are Adults: Averted, and one of the common points of praise for the film. There's a lot of naturalistic dialogue, with Kayla in particular demonstrating a lot of hesitancy and uncertainty. Her YouTube videos are rambling and difficult to follow, and even her climactic "The Reason You Suck" Speech is full of dysfluency and repetition, with the resolution coming from the fact that she stands up for herself at all, rather than the eloquence of the speech itself.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Anna Meredith's "Nautilus" playing in the background can make even a pool party seem menacing.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • The girl who warns Kayla against crushing on Aiden because he dumped Chelsea when she wouldn't send him naked photos only inspires Kayla to get Aiden's attention by telling him she has naked selfies on her phone that she's saving to give the next guy who becomes her boyfriend. Fortunately it doesn't go any further than that.
    • Kayla's dad's overprotective dad moment when he watches Kayla with her friends at the mall infuriates her and causes her to accept a ride from Riley rather than get a ride with her dad, resulting in her being sexually harassed.
  • No Indoor Voice: Olivia's friend Trevor has real trouble with volume control.
  • No Social Skills: Kayla, her father, and Gabe are merely adorkably awkward, which is a step up from the majority of the characters who range from apathetic to downright mean. Olivia is one of the few characters to come across as socially well-adjusted.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The "truth or dare" scene is a more realistic use of this trope that's nonetheless extremely discomforting to watch, utilizing long pauses between dialogue and no music, creating an underlying tension. Judging by reported audience reactions (including the Sundance crowd twisting in their seats and shouting at the screen), it worked as intended.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Kayla starts tossing off S-bombs when she realizes she has broken her phone.
    • When Kayla sees the horde of wild kids in the pool at Kennedy's party, the look on her face is one of utter dismay.
  • Parents as People: Kayla's dad consistently tries to connect with her, and mostly fails to do so. Towards the end of the movie, he reveals that he was scared of raising her as a single parent, but became braver as he saw her grow into a good person without having to guide her.
  • Phoneaholic Teenager: Played seriously as the movie emphasizes Kayla's connection to the world through the internet, mostly via her phone.
    • Although she's clearly not the only one — even the cool kids seem to spend more time on their phones than interacting with each other, like in the scene where Kayla tries to talk to Kennedy and her friend who are walking together but both are glued to their phones.
  • Practically Different Generations: Not a literal example, but invoked by the high schoolers that Kayla hangs out with for one scene, one of whom argues that even though Kayla is only 4 years younger than them, the different ages at which technologies/apps became available to them makes them different generations.
  • Precision F-Strike: Normally mild-mannered Kayla tosses off S-bombs when she breaks her cell phone.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: At graduation, Kayla briefly breaks from her spot in line to give one to Kennedy for always putting her down and writing her off. She does mostly look at the floor, and fumbles through it, but it's a huge moment for her nonetheless.
    Kayla: Hey. I wrote you that letter thanking you for inviting me to your birthday party, and you didn't write back or anything! I didn't even get a DM on, like, Instagram or whatever. And you know what? You're always mean to me, and I'm always nice to you, and being mean isn't nice. And when somebody does something nice to you, you're supposed to be nice back, and you're always mean to me, and I know... I'm a good person because I'm always nice to you, and you're just... And, also, that card game I got you is, like, a really fun version of Go Fish or whatever, and you'd actually know if you played it instead of trying to be cool all the time. It's, like, dumb, or whatever, but you know... It's dumb in a way that's fun to play when it's raining outside, and you'd know that if you stopped trying to be cool all the time!
  • Running Gag:
    • The unseen kid who keeps shouting "LEBRON JAMES!" during lulls in conversation, which is a reference to a Vine.
    • Kayla's dad repeatedly walking in on his daughter at the worst possible times.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shrinking Violet: What Kayla is trying to not be seen as. At the beginning of the film, she's voted the "Most Quiet" member of her class. She isn't happy about it.
  • Signing-Off Catchphrase: Kayla ends all of her YouTube videos with a sign-off of "Gucci!" and an OK hand sign over her face.
  • Smitten Teenage Girl: Kayla, for Aiden.
  • Social Media Is Bad: Zig Zagged in that the film shows both the negative effects of social media on Kayla's psyche, but that it's also a means of connection and self-formation for her.
  • Socially Awkward Hero: Kayla of course, but also her father.
  • Stylistic Suck: The middle school band's playing is realistically mediocre.
  • Stalker without a Crush: while Kayla is hanging with Olivia and her friends at the mall, one of them notes dramatically that a creepy old guy has been watching them for a long time. It turns out to be Kayla's dad.
  • Technologically Blind Elders: Downplayed. Kennedy's mother tells Kayla that her daughter will text her on Facebook. Kennedy corrects her that no one is using Facebook anymore.
  • This Loser Is You: The film positions Kayla as a socially awkward, friendless loser going through a Coming of Age Story with universal appeal to the intended audience while taking pains to avoid making her unsympathetic via a negative attitude. Kayla does not complain about her situation, her anxiety is expressed mostly nonverbally, and she consistently expresses her emotions via concern for others, not herself — making YouTube videos with the intent of helping her (non-existent) audience, and asking her dad if she makes him feel sad.
  • Wakeup Makeup: Early on, we see Kayla putting on make-up in the morning and then posting a selfie online with the caption "Just woke up this way".
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Aiden wins the "Best Eyes" superlative at school, and a lot of focus is put on his eyes.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Another girl asks Kayla this about her crush on Aiden, given his dull personality, gross habits, and objectifying behavior toward girls. She eventually grows out of it.
  • Wild Teen Party: The pool party turns out to be a G-rated version: a horde of kids are throwing balls at each other, splashing water around, turning their eyelids inside out ... It is almost too much for Kayla to countenance as she stands watching the mayhem from inside the house with a look of horror on her face.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Kayla's father attempts to give this speech throughout the movie, only to be drowned out or ignored. He finally gets to deliver a complete one in the end.
  • Yo Yo Plot Point: The film has Kayla achieve what is a tremendous breakthrough for her just half an hour into the film: anxious at the pool party to the point of begging her dad to take her home early she instead pulls herself together, goes to sing karaoke in front of the other kids, and is so successful in her newly-forged confidence that even Kennedy looks up from her phone. But as soon as the party ends everything goes back to normal and Kayla is a friendless loser, ignored by Kennedy and her clique when she anxiously seeks their approval at school.