Eighth Grade is such a truly authentic coming of age story that it will transcend generations. Bo Burnham's debut is nothing short of masterful as he captures the true essence of the plight everyone feels stepping into their teenage years... and he managed to do it through the lens of a girl.
We follow four days in the life of Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) as she finishes up her eighth grade year and prepares for high school. We navigate through Kayla's struggles with finding her confidence and place amongst her peers at school. She's so desperately quiet that she wins the "Most Quiet" superlative. She expresses herself through mostly unwatched YouTube videos where she gives advice on the things she's striving to accomplish herself. We also see a very relatable relationship with her single father, Mark (Josh Hamilton). Her annoyance and embarrassment at every interaction with him rings so true that it made me want to call my parents and apologize.
Kayla finds herself invited to the popular girl's birthday pool party, and through the work on her YouTube video of "putting yourself out there" begrudgingly attends. The excruciating walk she takes from the bathroom to the backyard in a lime green suit felt like the weight of the world was on her shoulders... because everything at that age feels so monumental. The movie tackles so many of those transformative moments from first crushes, to making friends, to starting to discover your innermost deep emotions and does so with the perfect attention to detail.
Elsie Fisher is a revelation. She made this film feel like a documentary with her incredible, effortless performance. You cringe with her painful awkwardness, you soar through her triumphs and feel her disappointments in your gut. There were scenes I watched through my hands because the second hand awkwardness was so real and honest. I could feel myself having flashbacks to some of my own memories while watching, which I think was a pervasive experience for the entire audience.
Every performance was so purely authentic and raw. From Mark's speech about the love and pride he feels for his daughter, to the group of high schoolers she hangs out with at the mall food court, to her encounters with boys, to a particularly uncomfortable game of Truth or Dare... they all felt as though we were catching a glimpse of reality. They were a perfectly cast group of young actors with bright futures ahead of them. Kayla's high school mentor Olivia (Emily Robinson) and the goofy Gabe (Jake Ryan) were standouts for me.
We were lucky to be included in a live stream Q&A after the movie with Bo Burnham and some of the cast members. Burnham spoke about how he weaved his own anxieties throughout the screenplay and he cleverly displayed them through the talents of Elsie Fisher. This personal touch I believe is the secret to a movie that can relate to so many despite a subject matter that may be demographically different. He explained how we were all teenagers once and all had own our versions of the struggle and that is what makes this film special. Even though these teenagers are going through their own modern-day version of teenage angst with the magnifying glass of social media, a hellscape I can't even fathom at that age, the insecurities are, at their root, the same. I don't know how this generation will grow up to be well-adjusted adults while being subjected to that kind of influence in their most developmental years, but I believe seeing films like this could help. This film is such a gift. Everyone should see it.
I am 17 years removed from my own eighth grade experience, but I remember that school year well. After all, it included a definitive moment in all of our lives given it was 2001. September 11 is one of those dates you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing. I happened to be Coach Stephens' English class when news started to spread. The TV was on with the coverage of the first tower and we all watched in horror as the second tower was hit. I remember the screams ringing down the hallway so vividly. We were told to get out our journals and write everything we were feeling. I scribbled furiously about how scared I was and how uncertain I felt about the future living near a large city. The rest of that day is kind of a blur, but it absolutely shaped the rest of my eighth grade year and beyond. The news was on constantly while we had fundraisers at school for the FDNY and NYPD. With all that said, it was still a challenging year on a personal level, as many of us can relate. Middle school was the first real look I had at cliques and social castes. It really shook me when I realized I wasn't sure where I fit in anymore. The friends I made in elementary school were finding their own new friends and getting involved in new activities like theater, athletics, band, orchestra, etc... I've always known it was a pivotal and difficult time, but looking back I can clearly see how transformative that year really was.
Now I feel it's only fair I share a few memories of my days in middle school... Enjoy!
Brit's pro tip: Ignore that completely absurd R rating and make sure every teenager you know sees this film. Knowing you're not alone in feeling this way is half the battle.