Eighth Grade (2018)
Director – Bo Burnham
Writer – Bo Burnham
Starring – Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson
Rating – R
Genre – Comedy, Drama
Metascore – 90/100
Rotten Tomatoes – 98%
Eighth Grade is a movie that deftly captures the horror and excitement that was middle school for most people, and yet it’s a film that feels like so much more. YouTube comedian turned star Bo Burnham makes his directorial debut with a film about an eighth grade girl, Kayla (Elsie Fisher). Kayla is finishing her final days of middle school while wrestling with questions about how to be the person she wants to be.
We see Kayla examine her life and ask these questions through YouTube videos that she makes, with topics like “being yourself” to “being confident.” These videos function as soliloquies for the audience, because it is clear these videos are as much for Kayla as they are for anyone who may be watching. This is a clever story device that helps us get inside Kayla’s head, without feeling like hand-holding from the director.
Beyond YouTube, social media plays a huge role in Eighth Grade, and rightfully so. It’s a movie that is first and foremost about Generation Z; kids who have known no other life than one connected and online. However, the film refuses to be condescending by painting every member of Gen Z as vapid and narcissistic. Instead, Eighth Grade takes a compassionate look at the joys and struggles that come with life online. We laugh and cringe as Kayla painstakingly does her makeup only to climb back into bed for a “woke up like this” snapchat post. Eighth graders aren’t the only ones who feel this pressure. We felt it before the internet. Humans have always let the opinions of others play a huge role in forming our identities.
Arguably the crowning achievement of this film is telling a low stakes story in a compelling and dramatic way. It can be difficult to create tension and conflict when the stakes are as low as surviving middle school, but Burnham’s story creates such an empathetic character in Kayla that the film creates incredible tension in small moments, like going to a pool party at the cool kids house. Of course, these emotions are portrayed incredibly by Elsie Fisher, and other characters deliver great performances too. Josh Hamilton plays Kayla’s dad excellently, capturing both the highs and lows of parenting a teenager.
One of my favorite aspects of the movie was also one of its points of friction: the music. The soundtrack for Eighth Grade is exceptional, enhancing and driving home emotions and thematic elements. However, at times the film felt too music forward, with the sheer volume of the soundtrack becoming jarring.
By the end, I realized that Eighth Grade may not be a movie for eighth graders, but a movie for anyone and everyone who suffers with anxiety. Kayla’s fight to be the person she wants to be is one that felt familiar. Burnham captures the terror and awkwardness and joy that comes with growing up; and packages it in a compassionate look at not just Generation Z, but at humans in general.
Author: Josh Johnson