Before I get into today's installment of my month-long bloggery on the lack of tall, strong, chunky protagonist women in children's entertainment, I'm sure that you might have noticed an inconsistency. Yesterday, I claimed that my next topic was going to be Pokémon, and this article is clearly not titled in a way that suggests that I'll be talking about that. When I was doing research on body types of female characters in Pokémon, I was baffled by so many things. Therefore, I want to push that article to tomorrow so that I can properly critique the many, many issues with Pokémon and women.
I found this mountain of "WTF" to be a perfect excuse to write about this awesome, brand new film that just hit theatres nationwide: Eighth Grade.
Eighth Grade is a new movie directed and written by Bo Burnham. You might recognize that name. He's had numerous comedy specials on Netflix, a brief show on MTV, a poetry book and many hit Youtube videos. He's been labeled a comedian for as long as I can remember, and I remember vividly, as his theatrics combined with quality writing were one of the main things that inspired me to want to do stand-up comedy, which I still do today.
That being said, Eighth Grade was Burnham's directorial debut, and it was magnetic. In many interviews, you can hear Burnham speak to how he wanted a film that accurately captured the feelings of awkwardness, intensity and confusion that comes with modern eighth graders. He made a huge effort to make sure that the movie felt real. Everyone in it was playing the age that they actually were at the time of filming, the references are up-to-date and current, and it doesn't make a mockery of the teens of today, instead letting us peer into an accurate depiction of their lives.
However, the most important feature of this movie, for me, was the main character, Kayla Day. She has acne, she's chunkier and she's absolutely beautiful, inside and out.
Kayla Day is portrayed by Elsie Fisher, and what I loved most about how she played this character was her honesty. Fisher did not feel like your average Hollywood preteen turning down the bubbly factor for the sake of this script, she felt like a genuine person who truly felt the anxieties that were presented to her within the movie.
Kayla Day is important for representation. Never before have I seen a coming-of-age story that features a chubbier character in the leading role that doesn't have a plot that revolves around weightloss or something like that. Never before have I seen an actress who looks exactly how I looked in middle school represent a fictional middle schooler on a huge screen.
There's one scene in the movie that specifically struck me. Kayla was going to a pool party (dun dun dun). She made her way out to the pool wearing a bright green one-piece suit, only to be confronted by a swarm of very slender girls her age who were dressed in the trendiest bikinis of the year. Though I was watching a character on a screen, I couldn't help but feel like I was watching my own memories be presented to me. I remember that party. I remember that feeling.
A lot of the film revolves around how invisible Kayla feels in her community. She wants so desperately to be liked that she'll do anything and act any way to gain the support of her peers. She watches beauty videos on Youtube, trying to follow them in her bathroom mirror, and she tells fibs about what she knows about more mature topics out of fear of seeming lame or lesser. In these moments, I once again saw myself and that feeling of desperation to prove that I was not just the quiet, fat girl in the nerdier classes. I was more, or at least I COULD be more, if given the chance.
I don't want to go into too much detail in regards to the plot of this film since it was released less than a week ago nationwide, but all I can say is that I desperately need you to go see it. It's one of few movies with a chunkier lead, going along with the theme of this month's blogs, but it is also so important due to its poetry and realness regarding coming of age in a messier, more confusing way. It's an example of entertainment that children, more so middle school children and older, need to see.
Kayla Day gives a voice to a genre of young people that grew up in the shadows of entertianment. Where chunkier female characters were either bullies or out-of-touch nerds, Kayla shows that these students felt the way that they were poorly treated and shows how that treatment affected confidence and personality. Most importantly, she shows that these young people can prevail, even in the smallest ways.
Tomorrow, I'll be getting into the rampant sexualization of women in Pokémon. I hope that you enjoyed this article. Go see Eighth Grade!