When I was in grade school, social media was really nothing more than chats on MSN Messenger and cell phones that didn’t have the functionality we know of today. There was Facebook, too, I guess, but I remember it being bigger in high school. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and all those other goodies weren’t around, and I’m rather glad for it, because my mental health would’ve been a wreck. Like Kayla here, I would’ve been baiting the line and trying to reel in a new friendship or two, and always coming up empty. I had friends, fortunately, and they were good to me. But now they have moved on, moved away, or made even closer friends, and what do you know, I’ve become a Kayla in my mid-twenties, basically wondering if I will ever have a friend to hang out with again. A friend to call or text. A friend I could go to the movies with, and have spirited discussions and debates with. I probably would become overwhelmed with excitement if someone said, “Come hang out with me,” because that would be a sign that my life still had some meaning.
What Bo Burnham so beautifully clues into in Eighth Grade is that people like me and Kayla, who long for a friend to come our way, are misunderstood by practically everyone who crosses paths with us. If you are introverted and don’t know how to conduct yourself in social situations, you’re basically fucked. You can try and try to cry out into the void for someone to hear you, but the reality is, no one will. At least, not until that one person in a million comes along and takes your hand, judging you for who you are at heart and not by the way you look and act in public. The waiting game is hard, and to date, I don’t know if I’ll ever find a good friend before I die. Burnham doesn’t have an answer for Kayla, either, though he does give her some hope in Gabe. I kind of envy her that glimmer of happiness, because it means that she may be alright in the end. Her quest for a meaningful social life may conclude triumphantly. Only a sequel can tell us for sure, but we certainly don’t need one, because this small slice of Kayla’s youth is enough to deeply affect those who view it—especially those who are socially awkward, anxious, and invisible. It’s basically the Lady Bird for the introverted crowd, and almost just as perfect. And, in truth, people like me needed this, because I can finally point to a film that captures the emotions of being caught between solitude and the aching desire for companionship. Whenever the perfect, brilliant Elsie Fisher’s face fell in her moments of failure, and her eyes welled up because of all she could not accomplish, I had never felt more seen. Because I’ve felt that hurt, too, and I know the terribleness of its sting. You feel so dejected, hopeless and lost, that at times it is too much to bear, and you wish you had another, more confident body to live in.
Yet there is hope in Eighth Grade, and for that, I thank Bo Burnham for giving it to me.