“Eighth Grade” is a modern coming-of-age classic that perfectly encapsulates the difficulty of growing up in 2018. The movie follows Kayla, played by Elsie Fischer, as she goes through her last week of middle school.
The plot of the movie is simple, yet extremely uneasy in a way that audiences can understand. After the movie, I thought about how “The Breakfast Club” is remembered as an authentic movie that captured life as a teenager during the ’80s and ’90s. I hope “Eighth Grade” has an even better legacy than that and many other school coming-of-age stories, because of its superior story-telling and star performance.
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The movie begins with Kayla filming a YouTube video explaining how to be yourself, followed by her morning routine. Both quickly show she’s a shy, nervous kid who just wants to keep up with her other classmates. As the movie goes on, we see Kayla go to a pool party, hang out with high schoolers (at the mall!) and graduate 8th grade. Sounds like an awesome week, but it contains several moments of horror because of the constant anxiety that surrounds every decision and conversation.
The movie teases audiences early with scenes where Kayla appears to have conquered her anxiety and become less shy, but she never does. One brave decision doesn’t make her popular or solve all of her problems — it’s just the next step in growing up.
Fischer is the most real part of the film, and nails every scene. She’s cringe-worthy, annoyed and nervous, but above all else — she’s smart. The movie, cleverly, never wastes time showing Kayla getting an ‘A’ on a history paper, or a teacher telling her how much potential she has as a student. Instead, we see her read every social cue and understand the perspective of everyone around her. That’s one of my favorite things about this performance — Fischer shows eighth graders know what’s up. They’re not adults and may not seem like they are paying attention while they are looking at their phones, but they can understand the world around them. Well, at least eighth-grade girls do — the boys might be too busy playing Fortnite.
This movie also gives an insightful look at parenting in 2018. Throughout the whole movie, we see Kayla’s father struggle to help her understand how much she means to him. In the first dinner scene, he tries to tell her how cool she is but immediately sounds dorky. All he wants is for her to be happy with herself, but he has no idea how to express that. This all culminates when he and Kayla are sitting around the fire; an extremely rewarding and heartfelt scene. If someone watching the movie is too old to understand the perspective of Kayla, they’ll certainly understand the parents’.
The movie is incredibly well directed by Bo Burnham. It’s amazing how the style of his Netflix stand-ups was able to smoothly transition into a film. His stand-ups contain sharp transitions, sometimes even using timed interruptions like music or a voiced audio recording. In a similar way, Burnham uses music to build up a scene or mood of a character, then quickly transitions to silence. He made a swimming pool full of eighth graders feel absolutely frightening. The way the film was edited and shot was almost unbelievable coming from a first-time director. I’m a sucker for scenes with Steadicam shots of the camera following directly behind a character.
Fischer puts in one of my favorite performances of the year, but the winner of this movie is Bo Burnham. He made the transition from stand-up to directing look easy and created one of the truest movies of the decade. “Eighth Grade” had the most honest portrayal of social media I’ve ever seen. As I mentioned at the beginning, I am confident that we will always be able to look back at this film to perfectly understand what it was like growing up during the early social media era.
This movie, along with his stand-ups, shows that Burnham is one of the most insightful people working today, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. This also marks another big win for an independent entertainment company, specializing in film production — A24. Burnham and Fischer have an garnered an enormous amount of press for this movie, showing confidence that A24 can be relevant in award discussion later this year.