With a bit of free time on my hands this week, I decided to do what I haven’t done in months – watch two back-to-back movies at my local cinema. Two movies that, while being set more than two decades apart, were basically the same story told across different genders. Those movies? Eighth Grade and Mid90s.
Both are tales of kids growing up in their respective environments, with one focusing on a young girl in the modern age, and the other a young boy in the mid-90s. Who saw that coming? I knew this going in, of course, but I came out thinking how while both genders absolutely go through different things growing up, neither scenario has really changed over that 20-30 year time span.
Eighth Grade attempts to demonstrate how social media is this omnipotent curse presiding over the young female generation, and how girls are taught that popularity is everything.
Kayla (Elsie Fisher) a young, socially awkward girl wrapping up her middle school life and freaking out about moving up, looks back on how she has changed over the years. It’s a story about Kayla finally practicing what she preaches in her vlogs; like embracing and finding confidence in yourself and others rather than pretending (and failing) to be somebody you’re not. Kayla spends her days ignoring her loving father to make minor social interactions online and spends most of the night doing the same. It all leads to virtually no change in her real social stature with the kids still voting her the quietest girl in class.
Mid90s, on the other hand, chronicles a young boy diving off the deep end to find a couple of friends. Stevie (Sunny Suljic), a kid I can’t see being any older than 12, befriends a small bunch of skater kids to escape his abusive brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) – a wannabe musclehead with no friends and nowhere to go, and whom Stevie still clearly wants to love. Stevie quickly takes up smoking, stealing, pissing in the streets, drinking at parties, tossing his friend’s ADHD meds down his own gullet, falling off a roof, and… letting older girls touch his dick. Stevie goes down hill real fast.
This one is more a look at toxic masculinity and how far boys go to appear tough, strong and “not gay”, and how everyone acting out usually has their own reason for doing so. We’re all going through some kind of shit, and boys often turn to destructive behaviour when they’re too scared to ask for help. Stevie screams into pillows and punishes himself through self-harm, whereas his brother takes out his own lonely frustrations on Stevie and hides in his shirt when his brother finds out he’s a fraud. I don’t want to spoil one of the bigger turning points of the movie, but Ian isn’t the big bastard we’re led to believe. He’s just another victim of societal pressure.
But during that second movie, it all started to make sense to me: The way girls and boys grow up in today’s society really isn’t all that different from how they grew up back then.
Boys are still taught to bottle up their feelings and maintain that strong exterior, while girls are still made to feel that they’re nothing without a large group of friends and a skinny waist. Kalya is pressured into maintaining a presence on social media or risk fading away entirely, and Stevie, originally seeing his brother as a role model in the absence of a father figure, does a lot of ugly stuff to look like a man.
Both characters eventually figure out that they’ve essentially been tricked by the world around them, but only one goes so far as fix the problem, possibly highlighting the stubborn ego boys like Stevie can quickly form that even a near-death experience and a compassionate mother can’t crack.
Eighth Grade and Mid90s are must-watch coming of age stories no matter your age or gender. They can be a worryingly relatable look into your own adolescence, or be a terrifying window into the lives on the other side of the coin. Either way, unless you’re an 80-year old with no understanding of modern media, you’ll take away something profound from both of these movies.