“Eighth Grade” was written and directed by Bo Burnham and stars Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton. The film is about a girl living out her last few weeks of middle school, but, as someone who struggles to talk to people, she encounters issues fitting in and how to move on to high school the next year.
This has been a movie on my radar for quite a long time, as this is Burnham’s directorial debut, and one that has garnered quite a lot of attention. With the rise of other comedians like Jordan Peele and Kumail Nanjiani, who have both more than proved their talents, I was hoping Burnham would pull through, and the trailers made it look like he definitely could.
It’s hard to know where to start about what works with this film, but it has to be with Burnham, who makes one of the best-directed films in recent memory. For a debut, Burnham shows all the talent of a true veteran with smart editing techniques, an impressive eye for unique shots and interesting switch-ups in tone and while also beautifully developing a lead character who is at all times relatable and difficult to fully understand. Burnham already has a flair that is easy to love, and he made this movie completely his own and 100 percent unforgettable.
Look out world, because 15-year-old Elsie Fisher is a new star, as she gives one of the best performances of the year in the lead role. As Kayla, Fisher is genuine, she is sometimes hard to watch, but you always root for her and understand the issues she is dealing with. Fisher is only a year or two removed from eighth grade herself, so she plays the part from a very realistic standpoint, and kills it the entire way.
Fisher is the biggest highlight of the movie, but she is not alone, as Hamilton is outstanding as Kayla’s father. The role of a dad who just wants to understand his daughter isn’t a rare one, but rarely is it portrayed this beautifully and this realistically as it is here. Hamilton is the typical corny dad, but one who clearly cares and loves his daughter, and their dynamic was amazing to watch grow.
The writing in this movie by Burnham is so precise and so well-developed, it really feels like it was written by a 13-year-old. There is just so much that works for Burnham here, as he nails down both awkward comedy and situational comedy, but while never making it too outlandish that it takes away from the realism. Every character in “Eighth Grade” belongs and feels like they were taken out of real life, and the script is a lot of the reason why.
For a film that feels like a drama with comedy infused, there is a surprising amount of tension that Burnham earns, all from the fear of being welcomed or accepted. By so effortlessly making the audience feel and hope for Kayla to find friends, Burnham successfully gets us to feel all the anxiety she is feeling in every situation, and it made for some hair-raising scenes of awkwardness and sadness. There are plenty moments filled with cringe, but they all are purposeful and intentional, and they make us feel Kayla’s pain in the hardest of ways.
Fisher and Burnham both need to be praised again for just how much everything in this movie works. For Fisher, to come into this movie and to knock this character out of the park, is truly unbelievable. There is so much subtlety to Kayla’s social anxiety and fears, and to portray those so excellently and to make this movie feel like watching real life is something many long-time actors can’t nail down, and she does it with ease.
For Burnham, he comes onto the directing scene and makes a movie that averts movie cliches, and instead plays on the tropes of real life to make a movie feel so genuine and so heartwarming. Kayla and her father feel real, Kayla’s dynamic with boys, high schoolers and popular girls all feel real. There are questions left unanswered because that’s how life goes, and Burnham just has such a grasp on what makes a movie feel legitimate that it made the entire film work wonders beyond my wildest dreams.
“Eighth Grade” is a special film, a film worth all the attention of the world and a film that will easily stand as a high point of 2018. Burnham wrote and directed a home run on his first try, and Fisher and Hamilton both will hold as two of my favorite performances of the year. This movie made me laugh, this movie made me uneasy, it made me cry and it made me feel in every way that it should have. “Eighth Grade” paints a vivid picture of realism as to what eighth graders must go through in this modern world, and he does it without a single frame feeling generic. I am sure this is a film that will be on my mind for weeks to come, as there is not a single second I can look back on and think it could have been done better.
Get tickets and showtimes for “Eighth Grade” here (in theaters nationwide on August 3rd)
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