Eighth Grade was a rather confusing and painful experience. The movie Eighth Grade, however, is a portrait of an adolescent coming to terms with her growing pains that is simultaneously humorous and heartbreaking. It also perfectly captures how going through middle school feels like the end of everything when it’s really the end of an era.
Middle school is a time of confusion and uncertainty over what lies ahead and watching Eighth Grade felt like I was taking a trip back in time. The film-watching experience was hard for me because it was a difficult time in my life and at times, it felt like I was being reminded of the things I would’ve done over. But in the end, it still managed to be a rewarding experience thanks to the quality of the picture itself and its earnest emotional center.
Eighth Grade follows the story of a girl named Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) who’s trying to live through her final week of middle school. Over the course of the week, she spends her time trying to fit in, step out of her comfort zone, and look into what lies ahead in high school. Meanwhile, her loving father Mark (Josh Hamilton) tries reaching out to her even though she remains distant.
It may seem like a retread of the same old “coming of age” story. However, writer/director Bo Burnham still makes it seem fresh and new. One manner in which he does this is by demonstrating how today’s middle-school teenagers are absorbed in social media. Even Kayla creates a series of video blogs on YouTube where she tries giving advice to other teens on how to overcome their fears and anxieties. We also get humorous scenes of adults trying to seem hip. For example, during a scene where Kayla is watching a puberty video in her class, the woman in the video says “It’s gonna be lit” before talking about the typical hormonal changes teenagers experience.
Of course, besides the writer/director, the film wouldn’t work without its leading lady either. As Kayla Day, a girl who slowly gains self-confidence, Elsie Fisher is a revelation. She captures Kayla’s insecurities and anxieties so amazingly well, it doesn’t even feel like she’s putting on a performance. She carries this picture with absolute ease and I look forward to what the future holds for her.
Equally as naturalistic is Josh Hamilton as Kayla’s father Mark. Hamilton is flawless as a father who may seem overbearing but is really someone masking his own personal anxiety. He even gets a cathartic monologue at the end taken from the “Michael Stuhlbarg in Call Me By Your Name” playbook that is bound to clutch the heart and makes you want to give him a giant hug.
That last bit pretty much sums up what Eighth Grade is. It feels like a warm hug. It also makes you want to send a message to your teenage self and let him or her know that things will be okay and to not always be afraid of what lies ahead.
Thank you, Bo Burnham, for crafting this marvelous gem that speaks to both teenagers and the teenagers inside the rest of us.