EIGHTH GRADE Review: 10 (Awkward and Accurate)
EIGHTH GRADE is a comedy/drama film written and directed by Bo Burnham, in his feature-film directorial debut. The plot follows an eighth-grader named Kayla, played by Elsie Fisher, who struggles to finish her last week of classes before embarking for high school. Josh Hamilton plays Kayla’s father Mark, a single dad who is trying to break through and connect with his daughter. Kayla is trying to find her voice and her confidence in a world of Instagram and YouTube and SnapChat. She cuts videos, updates her status, but seems to be staring into a trite void of superficial peers and at a loss for true friends.
Kayla is all of us, I think. Despite our own eighth grade experiences, or for some of us old enough to raise kids through this chapter of life, Burnham captures a particular quality about this age, especially those growing up in today’s vapid social media world. Burnham knows it well as a comedian who had his own start through YouTube videos. His comedic rise came through the viral videos and social media construct. And yet, even as its own product, he understands the pitfalls too. And this all comes out in a film about an emerging adolescent girl who is not completely comfortable in her own skin.
EIGHTH GRADE is a movie that is heartwarming at times and gut-wrenching at others. There are several scenes ranging from social encounters to emerging sexuality that are awkward and difficult to watch but feel painfully familiar. Burnham also embeds the dangers of young teens (particularly girls) who are so tied to insipid digital image making. In this way, it is sort of like the antidote to so many adolescent films of the previous generation. Yes, the characters of John Hughes films struggled with self-image, but many of them still existed in a vacuum of a tribe of friends and 80s clique stereotypes. Burnham’s Kayla lives not in a vacuum but in a void. And when she stops staring and begins to finally shout back, it is a moment where audiences will cheer for her victory. My highest recommendation.