Hot Take: For me, 8th grade wasn’t comfortable and Eighth Grade is about as realistic as fiction comes.
It’s been about 30 years since my time in 8th grade. Granted, many of the ways in which Kayla spends her time didn’t exist during my middle school years, the theme of Bo Burnham’s opus to the early teen years is frighteningly real. Elsie Fisher’s depiction of Kayla might be filled with modern day interactions with things like Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube and cell phones but the terror of being an awkward 13 year old and the move from middle school to high school is one of the more accurate coming-of-age films to hit theaters in some time. The only audience members who might think this is a more contemporary depiction and not a timeless tale are those select few of us who somehow skated through their grade school years with ease. The rest of us get it. Eighth Grade is as real of a tale of fiction that we’re likely to get in 2018.
8th grade Kayla (Fisher) spends her nights making motivational videos and posting them to YouTube. At school, it’s a different story where Kayla struggles making friends and wins the “Most Quiet” award during the school’s superlatives. At home, her single father Mark (Josh Hamilton) fails to connect nor break her obsession with social media. She does get invited to the birthday party of Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere) who is one of the most popular girls in school, but only because Kennedy’s mom seemingly has a thing for Kayla’s dad. It’s a rough time for Kayla who just can’t seem to connect or fit in with her classmates despite desperately wanting to do so.
Writer/director Burnham does an amazing job of capturing the reality of being an 8th grader with social struggles. It’s helped by a masterful performance from Fisher whose previous claim to fame was as the voice of Agnes in the first two Despicable Me films. As a debut feature film for Burnham, it’s yet another great find by A24 which seems to have the Midas Touch when it comes to these types of films. (They were also the studio behind Hereditary which marked the feature film debut of writer/director Ari Aster earlier this year.) For Fisher, it will likely spawn into a number of opportunities for the 15 year old who gives one of the most heartfelt performances of the year.
Eighth Grade is an emotional film for those of us who can relate to Kayla which, honestly, is likely most of us in at least some way. There are only a select few of us who survived our school years unscathed from some level of social anxiety, image issues or general awkwardness that made interacting with the rest of us experiencing exploding hormones and general difficulty finding acceptance during our teen years. Through the film’s frequent moments of uncomfortable humor is a ring of truth that makes Eighth Grade such a relatable experience to most of us in attendance.
There’s an appeal to a raw, honest recreation of our awkward middle school years in the age of social media.
You were that kid that never had a pimple and always had someone looking to hang out with you.