Eighth Grade

Eighth Grade Review: Middle School Confidential

Eighth Grade

Movie Rating:


Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is a sheer delight, a moving, provocative, often hilarious look at adolescence through the eyes of a girl named Kayla (Elsie Fisher). Told with a deft touch, the film is is a blemishes-and-all look at the universal travails of entering adulthood, coupled with contemporary challenges that social media brings to the already fraught experience of defining one’s self at this age.

Kayla’s an extrovert online and an introvert with her peers, voted “Most Quiet” at school while living vicariously through the worlds accessed with her damaged mobile phone. The metaphor of the broken virtual world isn’t accidental, but like the rest of the film, these overt storytelling elements buttress rather than portray the generally subtle and sympathetic character moments.

As Kayla becomes smitten with classmate Aiden (Luke Prael) and tries to make herself seen at a local pool party, we’re drawn into not only her insecurities but her genuine charm that’s being overlooked by those around. This too is an old trope, one explored consistently by the likes of John Hughes and others to tweak audiences into a kind of forced empathy. However, like with the best of Hughes’ work, both a darkness and light are at play at all times. Broad comedic moments collide with actions that evoke genuine pathos. The deft balancing of these disparate elements elevates Burnham’s film, allowing us to feel deeply connected to Kayla and her travails.

Fisher is simply extraordinary. The young actress delivers a performance that’s near documentary-like, never succumbing to some of the more obvious tics that plague young performers. She fully inhabits this character, and thanks to her own innate charm, we fall for Kayla, quirks and all, seeing in her struggles and triumphs that reflect our own.

As much as we wish to fully inhabit the role of protagonist, the other characters in Burnham’s script are equally well drawn. Even the creeps and mean girls are three-dimensional, with their own insecurities on display. There’s a small moment at the end with a teacher laying on a stair step that perfectly encapsulates his world weariness at the semester close. We may still harbor feelings of the misery of youth coupled with the immense feelings of possibility that the future can bring, but this writer truly empathized with that tired teacher.

These moments both big and small make Eighth Grade shine. It speaks to contemporary and universal experiences like few others. Thanks to a shattering performance by youngster Fisher, we’re treated to one of the great films of 2018.

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