It starts with Kayla’s expectations going into a bigger school, and how her past three years in middle school gave her knowledge far more valuable than the right boy to cuddle with or how to apply makeup on just right. Kayla struggles with putting herself out there but feels weak no matter how much attention she tries to get. The Beatitudes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount affirm that all who feel weak will be blessed, (Matthew 5:2-11) which proves a point made by Kayla in one of her vlog entries: always be yourself (or humble yourself). The funny thing though is after recording this video, she then immediately follows a YouTube makeup tutorial, then gets back into bed to post a phony “just woke up like this” photo on Instagram. Despite her seeking approval from infinite followers, her father proves through the way he treats her that she does not need to look just right for his approval. It’s that same way with Jesus, who sees us as of “more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:31)
A sign of her being defiled is after she cracks her phone screen; at one point she cuts her thumb on the crack and licks the blood off. God has spoken numerous times how the Jews of the Old Testament were forbidden from ever eating blood, as there’s nothing more defiling than consuming another’s life. (Leviticus 17:14) That sense of blood-licking is just a subtle hint of how much Kayla thirsts after the attention and approval of those she only can interact with via pixels on a glowing touchscreen.
It’s clear throughout the film that Kayla struggles about belief in God; on one night she even prays because the high school shadow the next day is important; she just wants a great day despite all the other days perhaps having to be bad days as a result. The day starts out great as she connects instantly with the senior girl she shadows, but it ultimately ends up destructive as she’s later almost sexually assaulted. Things like this would reasonably make her, and anybody in that position, question why a perfect God allow bad things to happen.
That is a difficult questions for even the most faithful of Christians to answer, although it could be that God’s intention for going against a request for a good day is more out of allowing us to be afraid, so we have nowhere else to turn for courage besides His Holy Word. Kayla feels afraid about everything: going out in a one-piece swimsuit, singing karaoke, talking to a boy she likes, and revisiting her sixth grade flash drive that reminds her of all the accomplishments throughout middle school she failed to achieve. We all face the fear of not living up to someone’s expectations, particularly our own, which is why being born again allows us to see the kingdom of God—where we will never be afraid again. (John 3:3)
Eighth Grade ultimately reminds us all, young and old, millennial and baby boomer, middle schooler and high schooler, that love starts with not being an attention seeker. It also starts with seeking change, which opens up many opportunities to grow as a person, as Kayla tells her future eighteen-year-old self. Not knowing what will happen next is what makes life exciting, a truth she proves through action when she buries a new time capsule for herself. But it goes beyond mere excitement when you submit that worry and fear over to the Lord, for He knows exactly what to do with your life if you just depend on Him. (Jeremiah 29:11)
For further reference, I highly recommend Timothy Keller’s “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness.”
Have a great week, and happy watching, God bless!