Movie Review: Eighth Grade

Bo Burnham has been delivering top notch comedy for a long time, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he would eventually cross over into film. What is surprising is how beautiful, heartfelt, and true this movie is.

Burnham is not only a great writer of comedy and mining all that is awkward about literally the most awkward period of our lives, but he proves himself an amazing director, especially of star Elsie Fisher. This is not an overstatement that her performance here as Kayla is Oscar-worthy as she encapsulates exactly what it is to be a young adolescent, especially in 2018, but the themes here are fairly universal.

If awkwardness was a fruit, and you could press it into a juice, then reduce that into a syrup and serve it over pancakes, that would be the essence of this film. Every moment — mean girls, stupid boys, being misunderstood and lonely — rings 100% true and is uncomfortably funny.

The film actually captures such realism as Fisher’s actual acne and wearing ill-fitting bathing suits and having normal 13 year old bodies. But perhaps most surprising is its depiction of social media, phones, and texting and how it absolutely nails how this generation interacts with these things.

Personal story time: I have a daughter about to enter 8th grade. This film gets her and her generation in a way nothing else ever has. And unless you’ve been watching lots of YouTube and Vine and Instagram, you don’t understand where their media is coming from. And everyone wants to have their own channels and break out and be a star, but no one is watching.

Thirty or forty years ago, a protagonist may have written in her diary, fifteen years ago on her blog. Here we get her youtube channel, where she is free and her best self and giving advice to people she is obviously trying to take herself. And while she’s a star in her bedroom alone on her laptop, her class votes her “Most Quiet.” The tension between that is the key to her story and growing up– how much her self-perception differs from how people see her.

We also see some other somewhat shocking elements played off as totally normal and mundane. They have a schoolwide lockdown active shooter drill and actually pretend that children are dead in the hallways, during which time the boy she has a crush on asks her to send nudes if she wants to be his girlfriend. If the latter shocks you more than the former, you missed part of what the film is saying.

And through all of this we have Kayla’s dad. He tries so hard to connect with her and do the best he can and I literally have never connected and empathized with a movie character more in my life. There is a scene between the two of them as they sit around a firepit in their backyard that will make you cry, and also laugh a little in its over-the-top emotional stakes that overstate everything as the worst or best thing ever that is the essence of being thirteen. And of course it’s still glazed in that lovely awkward syrup that is lovingly drizzled over everything in this film.

There are a lot of amazing indie films out there that you need to see. This is one of the best films of the summer and deserves to be checked out. As great as this is, I expect even more from Bo Burnham in the near future. The kids are alright.

4.5 out of 5 stars