Who really remembers eighth grade? Sometimes, the question should be: who really wants to? The weird period between pre-teen and teenager, going through a gauntlet of changes and hoping you’ll survive, and trying so hard to fit in as you prepare to move on to ninth grade. As you go through adult life, sometimes you wish for those days. Movies like first time writer-director Bo Burnham’s poignant coming-of-age story, Eighth Grade, reminds audience that despite the added of pressures of postmillenial social media, growing up and the hard-won lesson of marching to your own drum remains the same.
This review will be spoiler-free.
The film traces the final weeks of Kayla’s (Elsie Fisher) final weeks in middle school as she struggles to finish classes before moving on to high school.
While the synopsis is simple, what matters is the story underneath. Kayla is like any young person at 13-years-old: shy, insecure and trying desperately to fit into the popular crowd in school and finding out how to speak to her first crush. While battling these emotions, Kayla can’t see past her awkwardness and see how special she truly is. The only time Kayla feels comfortable (and that’s still debatable) is when she sits down in front of her computer to make a YouTube video about confidence and self-image. In public, it’s completely opposite to what she states in her videos. While also navigating the rough seas before ninth grade, it doesn’t get any easier with her single father (a noble, low-key performance by Josh Hamilton), who also clashes with being her biggest cheerleader while constantly mortifying her despite the best intentions.
Elsie Fisher brought an amazing, star-is-born performance in her first starring role. It was impossible to not root for Kayla during the whole movie because – chances are – we’ve all been Kayla at some point. It’s rare that you encounter a character as relatable in a coming-of-age film. A big credit goes to Bo Burnham. The 27-year-old comedian and former YouTube star making his directorial debut tapped into the core of his heroine: her anxieties, hopes, and dreams. He revels in all of their universal beauty and making sure you cared about this shy, anxiety-riddled teen. Eighth Grade is a charmer of a film that had a lot of praise from Sundance and now I know why.
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