Eighth Grade Elsie FisherYear: 2018
Director(s): Bo Burnham
Writer(s): Bo Burnham
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 93 mins

Synopsis: A teenager tries to survive the last week of her disastrous eighth-grade year before leaving to start high school. (Source)

Eighth Grade captures that perfect storm of tweeny angst, awkward encounters and confusing impulses. With his sights on the YouTube age, director Bo Burnham explores a world where you can reach out to strangers through the internet, but still remain socially confused and incapable in person. It’s a new world to live in, carrying with it its own set of singular problems. And yet, Burnham has got his finger on the pulse. Here, he proves that though times may change, growing up still sucks. It doesn’t matter what era you’re born into or what technological advances you have at your disposal. Still, as much as the film faces the harsh reality of social disconnect, it’s bursting with life. Star Elsie Fisher is unmissable, harnessing a lethal amount of charm for a film that’s irresistible from start to finish.

With just one week left of eighth grade, 13-year-old Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is at both the home stretch, and the start of a new beginning. Either way, this next week isn’t going to go by without a fight. To her YouTube followers, Kayla is a motivational speaker. In reality, her classmates know her as the “quiet girl” from class. The divide from anonymous online advocate to IRL introvert brings Kayla to a boiling point, forcing her to confront who she really is, both in private and to those around her.

Though the entire thing is fueled by whip-smart dialogue, clever, biting humor and a raucous soundtrack from composer Anna Meredith, the film’s best trait is how it stresses the importance of being genuine. Especially in an internet age, our lives seem to be divided between digital, real, private and personal. Burnham searches for where these things intersect and where they’re the most authentic. Eventually, Kayla finds a courage deep within, and to do so is forced to ignore what others might think of her. While this may be such a baseline theme, Burnham renders it with both painful realism and amplified silliness. In turn, a lot of the humor comes from both kids and adults trying to make themselves relatable to one another. Tying things together, an unexpected bridge between generations comes from the shifting relationship between Kayla and her father, which gives the film its grace.

Eighth Grade review Elsie Fisher Josh HamiltonDespite Burnham’s keen sense of character and depiction of the zeitgeist, Elsie Fisher’s Kayla is what makes the film so indispensable. From the very first frame, Fisher is all of us. She’s an open book who is able to accent every facet of growing up, from the self-effacing laughs, to the courage that surges through her with nuance. Not just a perfect encapsulation of the film’s ideas, Fisher is a lightning bolt, showing us how her problems transcend age, gender and channeling them into pure sincerity. Supporting, Josh Hamilton is brilliant as her caring, but equally as awkward father, Mark. Hamilton keeps things just as restrained, but is more powerful for it, peering in from the fringes of Kayla’s story until he makes a meaningful connection. Rounding out Kayla’s inner circle, Emily Robinson’s Olivia adds pep and sincerity, while Jake Ryan’s Gabe swoops in and wins our hearts in a pivotal scene.

Eighth Grade feels like something I wish came out when I was growing up. It’s destined to become a teen touchtone, but also a breath of fresh air for the genre. That the film doesn’t sugarcoat or oversimplify while managing to remain bright and fun, is a testament to its sweet-natured grasp on progressively complex material. No matter what age you are, there’s something for everyone here. This is absolutely a timeless classic that dissects grade school misadventures with real heart and soul.

SG