If you would like to read Dylan S. Phillips’ earlier review of Eighth Grade, click here.
Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school—the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year—before she begins high school. (A24)
Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton and Emily Robinson
Writer: Bo Burnham
Director: Bo Burnham
Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (United States)
Running Time: 94mins
This film has received nothing but love for the most part since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Serving as comedian Bo Burnham’s writing and directing debut, Eighth Grade was about a thirteen year-old girl named Kayla (Fisher) who was just finishing her time in middle school before transitioning into high school for the first time. Kayla was pretty much a standard teenage girl who struggled to survive her final week of middle school. Her struggles were very much in line with what many other teenage girls of today face such as anxiety, self-esteem, and identity. The film modernizes these issues by viewing them through the lens of technology and social media.
While these themes are important, they are not new by any means and the film does not present them in a new way. At first, there is a huge disconnect as we watch Kayla’s many YouTube videos teaching others how to be themselves or to be confident for example while she fails to enact her own words in her own life. This disconnect continued as we watched the very awkward Kayla attend her middle school. This film lives or dies on the believability (and for some relatability) of its depiction of said middle school. The awkwardness is supposed to set her apart by emphasizing the difference between her and the other students but the gap here was far too wide and the situations and other students often felt too cliche to believe or get invested.
The film would also utilize music and camerawork to further emphasize Kayla’s uncomfortability, however, the music didn’t always work and this style slowly disappeared as the film progressed. Of course things became slightly more believable as the film went on with the best being a truly uncomfortable moment near the end of the film that also served as a real turning point for Kayla. The best part of the film was the relationship between Kayla and her single father Mark (Hamilton). Mark was the standard cringey dad who still cared deeply for his daughter. Their interactions were believable and what you would expect from a teenage girl and her father. They would consist of these little moments that would vary between hilarious and touching depending on the situation.
Ultimately, the film would not have worked if not for the superb performances of Fisher and Hamilton as Kayla and Mark. Fisher was just so compelling to watch as Kayla that it helped to make up for the lack of believability of her arc. Her emotional and physically nuanced performance helped bring Kayla’s struggle to life, it was a shame that she felt too out of place in her own story more often than not. Hamilton was compelling to watch as well while having excellent chemistry with Fisher. His aforementioned timing in both the comedic and dramatic moments was fun to watch.
Overall, this was a good coming of age that tells a commendable story will elements that don’t quite work. Those who can relate to the struggles of the main character will find more enjoyment here but lack of believability made it difficult to get deeply invested in the story. Despite this, the performances of Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton still make it well worth the watch and is still a solid debut for Burnham.