Eighth Grade

(Burnham, 2018)

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Raunchy comedian Bo Burnham takes a turn for the sincere in this wildly funny and emotional coming-of-age tale about a shy girl just starting to find herself. With an authentic script and a star-making performance from Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade is a breath of fresh air that is likely to be one of the best movies of 2018.

Kayla Day is about to graduate eighth grade, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready for any of it. Despite her hobby of making low-key self help videos on YouTube, Kayla can’t seem to take her own, adorably inarticulate advice. She is shy, self-conscious, anxious and afraid. She is in eighth freaking grade. However, Kayla more than just a preteen— she is a conduit for an experience and way of life that is not exclusive to 13-year-olds. Burnham even admits that the film was inspired by his real life anxieties, and not the ones he had at 13. For him it is about his anxieties as a 27-year-old man. For me it is about my anxieties as a 20-year-old. For some it will represent a perfect depiction of their eighth grade life. For others, such as myself, it is a striking metaphor for how I sometimes feel right now.

The entire film is held up by two things: Burnham’s script and Fisher’s performance. These two things connect so well that it is hard to imagine them without each other. Though Kayla seems inarticulate and off the cuff, Fisher maintains that most of her dialogue was performed as written, meaning that all the uh’s, um’s and like’s of the 13-year-old character are present in the script. I know this may not seem impressive, but just wait until you watch the film. The dialogue of every character is so realistic, it’s hard to imagine it was written at all. And of course, with such a challenge this technical, you need a strong actor to take the reigns. Elsie Fisher is exactly that.

In a performance I can only describe as stunning, Elsie Fisher raises the bar for what can be expected from an actor in their teens. Fisher carries the entire film on her shoulders and, though her character is anxious and vulnerable, she is anything but. It takes nothing short of greatness for a 13-year-old to act the way Fisher does in this film. Even days after seeing the film, it is hard to put the rawness of her performance into words. What I will say is, if A24 hasn’t thought about an awards campaign for Fisher and Burnham, they should be right now.

There is so much to love about Eighth Grade. We spent a large portion of the review talking about Burnham’s script and Fisher’s performance, but the brilliance doesn’t stop there. The direction, cinematography, supporting cast, editing and score are all practically flawless. Eighth Grade captures adolescence as well Boyhood, social media depression as well as Ingrid Goes West, and emotional turmoil as well as Inside Out. It is destined to be a coming-of-age classic and one of the first defining films about Generation Z. It may be rated R (for some simple f-bombs and sexual references), but Eighth Grade ought to be required viewing for children, parents, or anyone older than the age of 10. ★★★★★

David Merkle