Eighth Grade is a grounded and poignant look at the life of an introverted young girl struggling to find her place in the world. It's written and directed by comedic genius Bo Burnham, and it's his first attempt at creating a feature film. The film tells the story of Kayla (Elsie Fisher), a young girl who lives in the suburbs and is attending her last week of eighth grade. Kayla is introverted and often quiet, lacking confidence and social skills. However, she spends time publishing self-help videos on YouTube, acting as a sort of catharsis. Despite falling prey to some of the tropes of the coming-of-age tale, Eighth Grade manages to delight and deliver an incredibly emotional experience.
Eighth Grade is a perfect example of how great writing, excellent performances, and a solid vision from a director can make even the most retreaded stories feel fresh and exciting. When it comes to Kayla's trek through her last week of eighth grade, what makes it so effective and interesting is its grounded nature. The film does a great job showcasing how social media effects the younger generations, and it accurately depicts how kids truly act at that age. Generally speaking, Eighth Grade often feels more like you're watching someone's actual life than a movie. Kayla is played to perfection by newcomer actress Elsie Fisher. She does an absolutely excellent job balancing the nuance of the script and delivering a performance that is memorable and relatable. Although Elsie Fisher's performance is the most standout, the rest of the supporting cast gives great performances as well. Even extremely retread characters like Kayla's crush Aiden (Jake Ryan) and popular girl Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere) feel realistic instead of rehashed. Actor Josh Hamilton also performed admirably in the role of Mark, Kayla's single parent father.
A great deal of credit must be given to Bo Burnham for capturing the anxieties and awkward moments of being a teen so accurately on film. Kayla's character feels more fleshed out and relatable thanks to interesting camera shots and a smart use of sound and music. The soundtrack is a mix of heavy percussive electronic music with a dash of trance influences. These rhythm-heavy beats do a great job punctuating certain scenes as well as indicating transitions.
Overall, Eighth Grade is an extremely impressive directorial debut for Bo Burnham. The character of Kayla is one that is immediately relatable and empathetic, and Elsie Fisher's performance is surprisingly mature and nuanced given her lack of experience. The script is witty and funny, but it's also deeply emotional when it counts. Although Eighth Grade won't surprise you with any massive plot twists or shocking moments, the film is memorable and one that invites discussion among friends. Besides the entertainment value, Eighth Grade holds some uplifting and important messages that are important to both the adults and youth of our world. Despite the R rating, I believe that this movie is arguably the most important and effective for kids entering the cusp of adolescence. It's emotional, entertaining, funny, and completely compelling. When you imagine what a breakout indie film from Sundance is all about, Eighth Grade checks all of the boxes and then some.