“EIGHTH GRADE” – directed by Bo Burnham, is a candidly witty and honest film about the life and times of the super-relatable, awkward eighth grade student Kayla (Elsie Fisher), as she lives her way through her last weeks of middle school and prepares to enter the big, bad world of high school.
From the beginning, we the moviegoer, are pulled into an awkward teen video blog being shot by Kayla, in which she discusses, with all of the stammering teen lingo, the importance of being yourself to her very scarce amount of viewers. After Kayla stumbles her way through this vlog, a bright, electronic, loud song comes on as we see her walking up the sidewalk and into her school. Immediately the songs from the film pull you into the story, which abruptly ends as soon as the scene switches to Kayla sitting in her classroom. As we watch throughout the movie, the music in this film is designed to be not background music, but foreground music, playing its own role in the film. The music lifts when Kayla is lifted, builds the tension in her anxious, nervous moments, and stops abruptly in big moments, as though the audience is personally in and experiencing the moment with her.
The plot line of the movie takes even the most ‘popular’ people back to middle school in that the awkwardness and pain of trying to fit in, as well as the joy in figuring out who you are. These sheer realization moments are so relatable that it hurts as much now, as it might have then. The camera work with awkward close-ups, immediacy of confusing acts caught in slow motion, and montages that represent the sporadic-ness of the middle school girl’s mind follows the actions and thoughts of Kayla in such a way that the audience feels like they are reliving middle school with her. Through the first crush on a boy Aiden (Luke Prael), to trying to fit in with the popular girls Kennedy (Catherine Oliverie) & Steph (Nora Mullins) – to being at the mall trying to ‘hang out’ and having your older ‘cool’ high school freshman guide Olivia (Emily Robinson) and friends Riley (Daniel Zolghadri) & Trevor (Fred Hechinger), catch your dad (Josh Hamilton) spying on you at the mall.
Much unlike other middle school or high school coming-of-age stories, the film beautifully and accurately explores the eighth grader’s journey in trying to figure out who they are and find their identity as a person with all of the awkward, painful, triumphant and hopeful moments that come with this stage of life. Again, we the moviegoer watch with the struggles with Kayla as she tries to find herself amidst trying to be someone she’s not.
The acting by the entire supporting cast is so spot on – but the complete and total standout of this film is Elsie Fisher. What a brilliant, bright, nuanced performance this young actress gives. Keep an eye on this one people, as I predict she will be doing so much more and probably even better. All in all, this movie can be hard to watch, but I think that that’s because it is honest and truthful about what eighth grade can be like. I think some will relate more to it than others, but ultimately, it’s a really well-done take on the struggle that is middle school.
Review screening: Thursday, July 12, 2018 ~ Courtesy of Film Independent
‘EIGHTH GRADE’ IS NOW PLAYING NATIONWIDE AND IN U.K. // WORLDWIDE RELEASE DATE UNKNOWN AT THIS TIME