This indie flick from comedian Bo Burnham has just hit wide release and I was very excited to check it out. Burnham is incredibly witty (though often crass) so I was interested in what he could do behind a camera with a script he wrote.
Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is in her last week of eighth grade and she’s preparing for high school. People think she’s quiet but in her spare time, she creates inspirational YouTube videos. She struggles with making friends so when she’s invited to the popular girl’s birthday party, this is a chance for her to put herself out there. Her dad (Josh Hamilton) is trying to be helpful and supportive but eighth grade teenagers aren’t always receptive to nosy parents.
Our lead Elsie Fisher is incredible here, giving us a character that is both incredibly captivating and yet somehow universally relateable. This feels as if we’re actually watching the lives of real people, in all the best and worst ways. The dialogue is incredibly realistic and the characters all reminded me of people that I knew when I was that age.
I also really enjoyed Josh Hamilton as the father, who is struggling with trying to communicate with this teenage girl. It’s sometimes painful to watch but his performance is absolutely spot-on.
Now aside from the characters, the movie manages to elicit the sense of hyperactive emotions that goes with being in eighth grade. Everything is intense. The music is loud, yet the movie also smartly uses silence when things are going wrong for Kayla. We feel her anxiety, her fear, her excitement. The movie does an excellent job of making us feel everything that she’s feeling.
While this is an incredible character-piece, the structure of the film is a little loose. There isn’t a clear story progression to really follow and it doesn’t break into a typical three-act format. I found it to drag a little, mostly since it just didn’t feel like it was heading in any certain direction.
And while this is about eighth grade, I just want to reinforce this is an R-rated movie and isn’t suitable for actual eighth-graders unless you’re ready to do some serious debriefing conversations.
Eighth Grade manages to zap you back in time and I immediately found myself invested in it. It’s both really funny but also full of poignant and even tragic moments. It’s a rollercoaster of emotion, just like eighth grade actually was. Our lead Elsie Fisher delivers an incredibly convincing performance and Bo Burnham nails it in his first directorial effort.