Eighth Grade captures Spirit, Awkwardness

Elsie Fisher appears in Eighth Grade by Bo Burnham, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Eighth Grade is a film that perfectly captures the spirit and awkwardness of being a student in the final year of middle school.

Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) may be close to starting high school but before doing so, she must survive the end of eighth grade.  It’s not easy for the smartphone-obsessed teenager.  Even though she has a YouTube channel where she offers advice to others, she’s not the perfect person when it comes to applying said advice to her own actions.  These videos usually precede those scenes in which she doesn’t really follow her own advice.

From the early on, it’s clear that Kayla is crushing on Aiden (Luke Prael).  He’s the dream boy of her grade.  They don’t interact much, even after she’s reluctantly invited to Kennedy’s (Catherine Oliviere) pool party.  It’s only during the school’s shooting drill in which we delve into who Aiden is as a person.  He’s very much a one-note character but with a musical theme that plays throughout the film.  These interactions lead to other payoffs and moments of discomfort later on.

The school and the high school have a shadow program, which leads to Kayla being paired with Olivia (Emily Robinson).  The two have great chemistry together.  Their friendship is more of a subplot at best but I would love to see these two work together again!

What comedian Bo Burnham has done with his feature directorial debut is magnificently capture what it’s like to be, surprisingly on his part, a female student in the closing days of junior high.  This is the type of screenplay that you might expect from a woman rather than a dude.  Yet Burnham captures it so beautifully.  Eighth Grade isn’t an all-out comedy because it shouldn’t be.  It’s a battle to survive eighth grade for so many.  There’s no antagonist in the traditional sense.  If anything, it’s Kayla’s relationship with her dad, Mark (Josh Hamilton).

There’s drama in the film.  Oh, is there ever!  The stakes are never more heightened than they are during a game of Truth-Or-Dare.  The choices made here are bold on Burnham’s part.  That being said, it’s the honest reality for any student in high school.  At the same time, it’s such an uncomfortable moment for the viewer when Riley (Daniel Zolghadri) dares her.  It’s a cringe-worthy moment for young adults yet also shows some of the immaturity for students of this age.  It’s also a big moment in the film in which Kayla realizes how much her dad means to her.

Thinking back to 20 years ago when I was in eighth grade, I was able to semi-learn a lot about myself.  That’s another story for another day but it’s a reason why Kayla Day is someone who  will resonate with many people.  Unlike myself, Kayla gets to grow up at a time in which students LIVE on social media.  Instagram dominates the film as Kayla practically lives on the platform.  Smart phones are not cheap and shouldn’t be treated like a toy.  Kayla is quickly reminded of that during a late night when her knocks on her door when she should be asleep.

The number of F-bombs in the film lead to an automatic R rating.  The people that REALLY need to see the film unfortunately won’t be allowed to without adult supervision.  This may be my one biggest complaint about the film.

With the perfect casting of Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade is a film that could have come from the mind of John Hughes if he had wrote a film with the social media generation in mind.

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER:  Bo Burnham
CAST:  Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan

Premiering at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, A24 Films released Eighth Grade on July 13, 2018 with a theatrical expansion to follow.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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