Sunday, February 10, 2019

Social Anxieties

Eighth Grade
Director: Bo Burnham
Cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson
Released: July 13, 2018

Every day I wake up, I thank God there was no social media when I was in middle/high school. I am so, so, SO thankful I didn't have to deal with all of that during my most awkward years of my life. Even though I didn't have to deal with that, I can relate with Kayla (Elsie Fisher), the protagonist, who, as you may have guessed from the film's title, is an 8th grader. It takes place during her last week in middle school. 

I think we can all agree that middle school is the worst time in one's life. It's that age when everything is so awkward and you're going through those gross and weird changes in your body. I mean, I didn't have a terrible experience in middle school, but it isn't one I would want to revisit.

I could totally relate to Kayla because she is super quiet and keeps to herself and I am like that too, especially when I was her age. I felt so bad for her during an early scene when the principal is giving out the superlatives (my middle school never did this, thank God!) and after they announce the winners for "Most Athletic" and "Best Eyes",  they announce "Most Talkative" and I'm thinking, Uh-oh. Are they really going to go there? And they do. They announce the "winners" (there's one for a boy and a girl) for "Most Quiet" and of course Kayla gets it. Oh my God, this was hard to watch. My heart went out to her and I wanted to yell at the school faculty. Who in their right mind would think a thirteen-year-old kid would want to win an award for "Most Quiet?" When you're that age being quiet  equals not being cool or not having any friends, so why would they think they would want that to be announced to the entire school? Plus, most quiet kids don't want to be singled out, especially at a school assembly. Really terrible on the faculty's part. 

While Kayla is quiet at school, she has a channel on YouTube called Kayla's Corner (or was it Korner?) where she makes videos about being an adolescent, like what it means to be yourself and putting yourself out there. I was thinking she had a huge following and how ironic it would be that this shy girl at school is a huge YouTube sensation that nobody at her school knows about, but no, we see that her videos only have a couple of views. To be fair, her videos are pretty terrible She says "um" and "like" every other word. I wouldn't want to watch that! 

Her mom is out of the picture and you can tell her dad (Josh Hamilton) is doing his best to raise her, but he just doesn't know how to get through to her. There were times when I was on his side, but there were also times I thought he overstepped and I was on Kayla'a side. During the first scene we meet him, we first see a close up of Kayla scrolling through her phone with earbuds in her ears listening to loud pop music. We hear a muffled noise and the camera pans back to show that she's sitting at the table with her dad eating dinner! (Well, she's not eating since she's too busy looking at her phone!) Her dad is trying to have a conversation with her and I'm shocked he's not yelling at her to get off her f**king phone while they'er at the f**king dinner table. We will find out shortly that he lets her do whatever she wants on Fridays, hence the reason he's not throwing her phone across the room.

Kayla's dad knows she's struggling at school with fitting in and gives her the parent pep talk. He tells her that he think she's really cool and has lots of cool interests and that she should put herself out there because if people knew about her and her interests, she would have friends. This also happens in the scene between Molly Ringwald and her dad in Sixteen Candles when she's telling her dad about the boy she likes and he tells her that if he can't see how beautiful and smart she is, then he's an idiot. As someone who's gotten the parent pep talk many times in my youth, I'm sure this fell on deaf ears for Kayla as it did for me. I mean, your parents are supposed to build you up and give you self confidence. No parent is ever going to tell their child, "You suck" or "You don't deserve friends". But it really doesn't mean anything when they're trying to tell their kid how awesome they are because, let's face it, parents are biased when it comes to their own kids.

Kayla has been invited to a birthday/pool party of one of the popular girls at her school. I don't remember her name, so we'll call her L'il Regina George. Actually, it was the mother who invited her and Kayla receives a bitchy Instragram message from L'il Regina George that says something like, "My mom told me to invite you to my party so this is me doing that." Yeah, this girl sucks. I would have been like, "F**k you, I'm not going to your party." But Kayla does go (probably because her dad knows abut it) and I felt super anxious for her when she's wearing her swimsuit and going down the steps toward the pool. I was listening to a review of this movie on a podcast and one of the hosts said he felt more anxious for this young girl in this movie than any character in any horror movie he's seen and I have to agree. Granted, I haven't seen many horror movies, but this one I could totally relate to Kayla and I could sense her dread. Let me tell you something: I absolutely hate parties/large social gatherings (with maybe a FEW exceptions). There is nothing worse going to a large gathering where you don't know anybody and you're shy or socially awkward. I would have gone into that bathroom and just cried which may or may not have happened once or twice in my life. At least it's a pool party so even though it may be awkward wearing a bathing suit in front of everyone, she can sort of preoccupy herself in the pool and doesn't have to just sit/stand there looking awkward if there was no activity involved. (This is why I avoid parties in the rare chance I'm invited to any!) She's by herself for a few minutes until a nerdy-looking kid swims up to her and starts talking to her and introduces himself as L'il Regina George's cousin. Even though Kayla is paying more attention to her crush, I know they're going to be friends by the end of the movie. (And I'm right).

After everyone is swimming and back in the house, Kayla does exchange some brief words with her crush, Aiden. I guess this gives her the confidence to take a turn at karaoke when that's the next activity at the party. While this is going on, we see another one of her YouTube videos where she's talking about confidence and how to obtain it. Maybe I'm just really stupid, but I had no idea if she had made this video BEFORE she went to the party, like she was hyping herself up to have the confidence to do something she wouldn't normally do or if she made it AFTER the party when she was on the high of being involved in something and probably thinking that she mattered. I'm going to guess she made it after the party just because she probably had more time. You know, you gotta record the video (and it might take more than one take), then you gotta edit it, then you gotta upload it.

A switch has gone off inside her and Kayla decides she wants to change certain aspects of her life. She wants more friends, she wants a best friend, and she wants a boyfriend. She makes a list of how to achieve these goals (using a notebook as in a literal spiral notebook with paper you tear out, wouldn't most kids today use a laptop?) This is where Kayla and I vastly differ. I never cared about having friends in middle school. I may have had a couple people I called friends during this time, but I mostly had acquaintances and I certainly never had a best friend. And I never even considered having a boyfriend, at this, the most extremely awkward stage in my life where I had glasses, braces, frizzy hair, and god knows what else that came with being a gross 13/14 year old. Yes, this is the time when every girls feels glamorous. Eww, who wants that? Even if I did want a boyfriend, I was aware enough to know I couldn't get one; as you can read from the description of myself, I was not cute! I never suffered from what the kids today call "FOMO" (fear of missing out). I could not care less if I wasn't invited to a party (because 1, I wouldn't have gone anyway and b), I did not care about making friends). I was never even aware of any social gatherings among my peers unless it was a school dance. Hence another reason I'm so happy social media didn't exist when I was an adolescent: I could remain blissfully unaware. But Kayla seems to crave being popular and I will give her props, that she does go for it. She does have the balls to talk to her crush. She just doesn't have a mundane conversation with him (well, she does at first), but after learning he's a total perv (to be fair, he is an eighth grade boy), she tells him she has naked photos of herself on her phone to show her boyfriend when she gets one and she's good at fellatio. I did laugh how during the boring part of their conversation, he's just mumbling "uh huh" to her and is focused on his phone but once she brings up the naked photos, she has his full attention. Someday she's going to look back at this and realize what a creep her middle school crush was. I thought we were going to get an extremely awkward/uncomfortable moment where they do go out and he forces her to do something she doesn't want to do, but the movie will take a different turn and she doesn't seem to pursue Aiden anymore. I'm guessing she realized that he was only interested in her for one thing and by the end of the movie she recognizes she has more worth than that.

I admire her ambition for wanting to have more friends, but why does she pursue L'il Regina George and her posse of mean girls? Why not make friends with people who are more relatable to her and will truly be good friends? When she goes up to LRG and her friend to thank her for inviting her to her party, the two popular girls are just not having it and are concentrated on their phones. Well, now Kayla knows how her dad feels when he's trying to talk to her when she's on her phone! There is a great scene at the end where Kayla tells off LRG, so good for her. But, really, she should have never tried to be friends with her in the first place.

Because it's the last week of eighth grade, the fact that Kayla will be in high school next year has been a running theme throughout the film. On one of their last days, the eighth graders go to the high school where they will each be paired up with a senior who will take them around and show them a day in the life of a high schooler. I don't know if many middle schools do this, but mine never did. There is this weird moment when all the eighth graders are walking down the high school hall in a single line with their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. It's very odd; why are they making these 8th graders walk like they're in pre-school? The high school kids are laughing and taking photos and I can't say I blame them.

Kayla is paired with a girl named Olivia and she's very sweet and nice to Kayla and comes off as being a supportive older sister and it's clear that she is popular and has lots of friends and right away you can tell that she is the kind of person Kayla strives to be in high school. Olivia even gives her number to Kayla telling her to call her if she ever wants to talk about anything and Kayla does. (Even if I had a good rapport with someone and they told me to call them if I ever needed anything, I would have thrown that number away. I hate calling people because I always feel like I'm bugging them. Now if texting were around when I was in middle school, I wouldn't have a problem with that.) The girls chat about how much middle school sucks and Olivia asks Kayla if she wants to hang out with her and her friends at the food court at the mall. Of course Kayla wants to (hey, if she can't be friends with the popular girls her own age, she can be friends with seniors in high school! That will show L'il Regina George!) and she starts freaking out and drops her phone like a dork.

At the mall (which her dad drops her off there anything worse than having to have your parent drop you off/pick you up anytime you want to do something? I remember a couple moments like these where my mom would drop off a friend and me at a movie theater, but luckily, since I didn't have many friends, I didn't have to worry about this too much), Kayla meets up with Olivia and her three friends which include another girl and two boys. (Haha, can you imagine if they were on a double date and Kayla was the fifth wheel? Awkward! But that isn't the case).

They get into a conversation about social media which made me feel super f**king old, but it was interesting. One of the seniors asks Kayla what grade she was in when Snapchat came out and when she tells them fifth grade, they're all aghast and shocked because they didn't have Snapchat until they were in eighth grade. I guess Elsie Fisher told Bo Burnham that nobody in middle school uses Facebook, so that is a line thrown in the movie. Who knew?  I guess they all use Instagram and Snapchat. Maybe because I'm so far removed from my middle school years, I do not understand the appeal of Snapchat. Even if I was in middle school, I still feel like I would think it's really stupid. If I were to rank all the social media platforms, that one would be at the bottom, maybe just above MySpace. Oh my God, who remembers MySpace? Terrible, just terrible. Remember how you could "decorate" it any way you wanted and have music cues so you could come across someone's visually blinding MySpace page that was purple and orange and some terrible early '00s song (like "Milkshake") playing. AURGH. MySpace was the f**king worst. I only had one (probably the most boring MySpace page in the history of the world) because my cousin suggest I get it. I barely had enough friends to make a "Top Ten" friend list. But enough about that. I'm here to tell you how much I think Snapchat is stupid. A friend suggested I get it, and I did try to download it but once I realized it would take up too much space on my phone and I was too lazy to sign up for something I knew I would never use, I abandoned that idea. I don't understand why you would want to send/receive something that will be erased thirty seconds (or however long it is) after you view it. What is the point of that? (Unless you're sending dirty pics, I guess!) The reason I like Instagram is that I can go back and view photos I took a couple years ago and I like having a little photo album. Maybe I'm just not cool/hip enough to get the appeal of SnapChat, but I think it is really baffling. And honestly, everything I've heard about SnapChat sounds super shady or gross, so I'm not upset about not being part of that culture.

The remainder of my review may contain slight spoilers.

One of the guys mention that some guy has been looking at them for a while now and when Kayla turns around, she sees her dad on the level above them. Apparently he never went home and just stayed at the mall to check up on her. Not cool. Don't spy on your kids. (Or at least be a bit more sneaky about it!) Needless to say, she is furious when she excuses herself to talk to him in private. He tells her he will leave (after bribing her with some spending money) and pick her up later, but she tells him she will get her own ride.

Remember when I said I thought there was going to be an extremely awkward/uncomfortable moment with Kayla and her crush? We do get a moment like this, but you can also add "terrifying" among the adjectives and it's with one of the guys who's a friend of Olivia's. I don't know how close of friends they are, but apparently Olivia isn't aware of just how much of a creep this guy is, otherwise I doubt she would not let CreepBoy be alone with Kayla in the car! Basically, she's in the backseat and he makes a comment about how it's hard to talk to her when she's in the backseat and she asks if she should climb up to the front, but no, he tells her he'll get in the back with her and he stops the car to do that. Already you can tell she's extremely uncomfortable. He makes small chat with her, and she's being polite, then he suggests they play Truth or Dare. Ugh. First of all, whoever invented that game needs to be shot...twice. This is the worst game ever. It's designed to make people answer super uncomfortable questions or do really stupid things. Also, seriously, who plays that game after sixth grade? NOBODY, that's who. Because by that time, you realize just how much of a stupid "game" it is. Anyway, as you can imagine, Kayla is not interested in playing the stupid game, but the poor girl doesn't want to do anything to anger him, so she just sort of plays along until he "dares" her to take off her shirt. She firmly tells him "No" and that she wants to go home. This was a really scary scene because you had no idea what was going to happen to her. Luckily it doesn't go any further than that, and he does take her home, but he's telling her how he wanted to "help" her so she's not "inexperienced" when she starts high school. Ugh, what a tool. Kayla is upset and begs him not to tell Olivia, which I thought was odd. He should be begging her not to tell Olivia! We never do see what the aftermath was; like did she tell Olivia?

The movie ends with Kayla having a heart to heart with her dad (which made me cry, I admit) and her making friends with the kid she met at the pool party, as I predicted. You can tell she's going to be okay in high school because she doesn't need to be the most popular kid and she realizes she's just fine the way she is.

Yes, middle school is the worst and social media is the worst (especially when you're an unpopular teenager!) and again, thank God I didn't have to deal with it when I was in middle school and thank God my middle school days are long over! By the way, I would never see this movie with my parents if I were in 8th grade because there are some extremely awkward moments! 

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