Can you remember when you were in the eighth grade? If so, did you feel like you fit in and were accepted back then? Or were you mostly a loner and felt ignored or rejected most of the time? It’s questions like these that the film “Eighth Grade” does a wonderful job answering for a 14-year old girl named Kayla.
Played so incredibly well by a young actress named Elsie Fisher, Kayla spends the majority of her time in the movie feeling more on the outside of everything than anything else. Left to ponder her own thoughts and live in her own world more than not, Kayla is desperate to find her voice and ultimately wants to be herself, yet is so terribly afraid she’ll be completely rejected if she does. Her only outlet where she remains true to herself is through the self-help YouTube videos she regularly records. Unfortunately, no one really watches them nor seems to ever pay attention to her at school either. Her only friend and biggest fan appear to be her sole caretaker, that being her father, Mark Day, who’s also played quite convincingly by actor Josh Hamilton. Kayla does her best though to constantly push him away, as she finds his attempts to connect with her more annoying than anything. The person she really wants to pay attention to her is a boy in school named Aiden (Luke Prael), who acts like he doesn’t care about anyone or anything but himself. Yet Kayla is obsessed with him anyway and as she comes to the end of her eighth-grade year and realizes high school is just around the corner, she begins to do what so many do in their grammar school years to fit in and be noticed, that being to act like someone else who is perceived as cool or popular. As Kayla begins to move farther and farther away from who she truly is inside by adapting to what others seem to want her to be, she may just be on the very path she needs to be, to discover her true self.
Overall, the “Eighth Grade” film was a funny but painful reminder of my own grammar school years. I could relate, oh-so-well, to Kayla’s daily angst. When I was her age and about to end my own middle school years, I had zero friends, zero life, and zero fun. Most of my life was absorbed into my studies, fictional reading, and competitive swimming. I honestly hated my life back then and never felt like I fit in. I tried my best though to still do so by often mimicking what the cool kids did and generally made a fool of myself in the process. My reality was no different than Kayla’s back then, always looking on the outside, while secretly hoping to be noticed and be accepted to make my way on the inside. Sadly, that never happened until my senior year of high school when I completely changed everything about me, even giving up many of the things that I actually liked about myself. It’s then I discovered alcohol and through it I found a voice, but it wasn’t my true voice. And in all honesty, it’s taken me almost three decades later to find that for myself, to become myself, and to remain true to myself.
Alas, there is a side effect to that. I’m back on the outside looking in and find myself now often overlooked again, being regularly left off of invitation lists for parties, weddings and other get-togethers. My phone doesn’t ring much either these days with people wanting to hang out. So, on some level, I’m back to that very person I was in the eighth grade, except this time, I’m not going to adapt to what other people think I should be. I’m not going to compromise the person I am just to fit in either. I’ve decided I’m just going to be myself, and be more like Kayla, who continued to discover herself through her YouTube videos, except in my case, it’s through my very words I write in this blog. You see it’s this blog that has become the one place where I feel like I can truly be myself and shine forth the most.
In the end, the “Eighth Grade” movie really was a funny, but painful reminder of those grammar school years and ultimately helped me to see just how far I’ve come since those days where I thought I had to be like everyone else, when I really just needed to be myself…
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson