Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.
Release Date: August 3rd, 2018 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Bo Burnham Actors: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Luke Prael, Catherine Oliviere, Missy Yager
ayla Day (Elsie Fisher) records another video for social media, beginning with a request to her viewers to share for the sake of increasing her statistics. The topic for this latest post is about being yourself; but it’s a difficult thing to completely ignore what other people do or say or think. Plus, the very nature of putting herself online in a video places her in a position of potential extra scrutiny by peers.
In middle school, it’s the last week for eighth-grader Kayla, who endures typical humdrum activities, from a pottery class to sex education to announcements in the gym. During the awarding of student-chosen superlatives, Kayla is proclaimed “Most Quiet,” which is disheartening enough to nearly bring her to tears. Later that day, she opens her time capsule from two years prior, which doesn’t seem to be far enough back to garner any discernible reaction – though she does stare longingly at a SpongeBob Squarepants figurine. After school, Kayla is awkwardly confronted by classmate Kennedy’s mother, who invites her to a pool party, though Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere) isn’t a friend.
As a snapshot of pre-high-school life, “Eighth Grade” captures many elements quite accurately: social media addictions, obsessions with selfies, shortcomings in socializing, body image predicaments, and facing the fears of trying new things (many of which are presented with scary-movie music to amplify the perils of adolescence; navigating puberty, especially, draws parallels to horror). Fitting in has never seemed so formidable. Plus, there’s the issue of a crush – with the popular boy, Aiden (Luke Prael), who’s always accompanied by his own snazzy theme music. The film also demonstrates, with a distinct wryness and genuineness, complications for people who surround young teens – such as Kayla’s single father (Josh Hamilton), who struggles to connect with his daughter, and teachers who hilariously yet futilely attempt to relate to students.
The film’s greatest component, however, is Fisher, whose performance is both full of humor and surprisingly natural. She exudes an authenticity rarely seen in child actors. The script (written and directed by stand-up comedian Bo Burnham) is also unusually insightful, while also brimming with laugh-out-loud sequences (often capitalizing on Kayla’s discomfort in order to summon further chuckles). Ostracization and other embarrassing interactions provide the majority of the fuel for this sometimes heartening, mostly achingly realistic chronicle of growing pains.
There are ups and downs (again tending to utilize horror movie tactics, conjuring up trepidation as if something appalling is always lurking just around the corner – and also using keyboard arrangements, as if a nod to John Carpenter’s early works), but, unlike many of the pictures that mine comedy from realism, the darker happenings and conversations remain more potent than the bouts of levity. Perhaps because of this aim to highlight the negative aspects that shape transitions into adulthood, “Eighth Grade” poses a unique perspective – one that becomes more profound in its intermittently stern examinations of the recognizable trials and tribulations of youth. By the end, it doesn’t feel like a complete film, but it’s nonetheless effective, thought-provoking, and sweet.
– Mike Massie