THE STORY – Eighth-grader Kayla Day always has her phone in hand, hoping to find connections online that might make up for those she’s unable to forge in everyday life. She makes YouTube videos aimed at other adolescents dealing with similar issues—feelings of isolation, anxiety, and invisibility—but after so easily summoning this wisdom and confidence when addressing her (barely existent) audience, Kayla finds it paralyzingly difficult to apply in real situations. In the final week of a thus-far-disastrous school year—and with high school looming on the horizon—Kayla struggles to bridge the gap between how she perceives herself and who she believes she should be.
THE CAST – Elsie Fisher & Josh Hamilton
THE TEAM – Bo Burnham (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 94 Minutes
By Matt N.
Comedian, artist, online sensation and now filmmaker Bo Burnham may not have been in eighth grade when twitter, snapchat, instagram and other forms of social media were so prevalent in our lives as it is in this generation. But he most certainly makes it feel like he was (And to be fair, he was not that far ahead of it either considering he’s only 27 years old) with his directorial debut “Eighth Grade.” Centered around one fourteen year old girl and all of her dreams, fears and insecurities, “Eighth Grade” is a near pitch-perfect snapshot of this young girl’s life. And Bo Burnham not only presents this life authentically but he also provides social commentary on the difficult times we are attempting to raise our children in where discovering their self-identity in a world where they can be anybody online, is more difficult than ever.
Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is a fourteen year old girl who lives with her single father (Josh Hamilton) and is trying desperately to make it through her final week of eighth grade. Awkward, insecure and finding it difficult to fit in with other popular girls from school, she finds herself most at ease on her own youtube channel where she records herself providing motivational speeches to other people who may or may not be going through similar experiences as her. This funny, modern, relatable, insightful and sometimes traumatic coming of age story of pre-teen adolescence shines a light on one girl’s life at a very unique turning point, while highlighting universal truths that we have already experienced or are reliving with our own children.
Kayla is one of the most endearing characters of 2018, precisely because of how real and genuinely she is played by Elsie Fisher. Her look, her vocal delivery, her body language, literally every aspect of the performance by this 14 year old teenager is nothing short of a revelation. Not only is she able to hold our attention and carry the movie on her shoulders but she also has the difficult task of conveying a wide set of emotions throughout the film from fear, anxiety, hope, insecurity, warmth and humor. Her comedic timing is incredible as is her chemistry and relationship with her father played by Josh Hamilton. What Bo Burnham found in Elsie Fisher is a miracle and it’s because of her brilliance that “Eighth Grade” works as well as it does.
“Eighth Grade” in many ways feels tied to last year’s “Lady Bird” in how it captures a young girl going through a major transition in her life and all of the experiences and emotions she encounters along the way. Honest, raw and uncompromising, one will definitely experience flashbacks of nostalgia while watching “Eighth Grade” and will also find themselves rooting very hard to see Kayla succeed in life. It’s no surprise that A24 picked this film up after the success they had with “Lady Bird.” They may be two very different films but the feeling one experiences while watching both feels exactly the same.
Credit has to be paid to writer/director Bo Burnham for how well he handles the tone of this film and how effortlessly he swings the narrative back and forth between heartwarming and heartbreaking. “Eighth Grade” features a truly unique, electrical and bombastic score from Anna Meredith which helps to give “Eighth Grade” a singular identity while Bo Burnham also has a few directorial choices which make enough of an impact for his film to stand out but most of the time, he’s sitting back and allowing the actors and the dialogue do most of the heavy lifting. It’s not a perfect directorial debut but its still a highly impressive and expressive piece of work regardless.
“Eighth Grade” feels like a movie for this generation. It feels modern. It feels fresh. However, it also feels timeless in how it not only weaves in its social commentary on the internet and social media but also in how it captures universal truths, behaviors and experiences which every person whether they’re male or female can relate to. Elsie Fisher is truly astounding and many are undoubtedly going to be rooting for her to get an Oscar nomination for Best Actress come the upcoming awards season. I certainly hope it happens, for that is one of the many themes which “Eighth Grade” wishes us to take away from it. Despite how awkward, awful or depressing life gets (And “Eighth Grade” is certainly not afraid to explore these elements of life either sometimes to remarkable cringe-worthy effect), remember that you are a beautiful individual, capable of finding your place in the universe and that you cannot give up. “Gucci.”
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A miraculous find and performance from Elsie Fisher. Bo Burnham’s control over the tone and pacing of the story.
THE BAD – Might be too light for some audiences. I’m not entirely sure how but I’m also sure there will be audience members (Probably older) who will also find this particular story hard to relate to.