Eighth Grade is so agonizingly real it’s like being back in eighth grade. It’s been so many decades since I was that age you’d think those feelings of awkward social insecurity would be long gone, but this movie brought them all rushing back.
The film stars Elsie Fisher as Kayla Day, the eighth grader in question. Kayla makes YouTube videos. They are tips for kids on things like how to be confident. Kayla stumbles and stutters her way through the advice. She knows how things should be, but she isn’t able to make it that way in her own life. Yet, somehow, putting her small bits of wisdom out there in a public place gives her tiny bursts of courage. She tries to implement her own advice. She’s not very good at it.
First time director Bo Burnham was a YouTube celebrity himself, before writing this film.
Josh Hamilton plays Kayla’s dad. He isn’t exactly Mr. Cool, but he’s doing his single parent best to help Kayla through her awkward adolescence.
Kayla is befriended by Olivia (Emily Robinson) when she visits the high school on shadow day. Kayla shadows Olivia all day and meets her friends. Then Olivia invites her to hang out with them at the mall. This is like winning the lottery to Kayla. It’s perfect – until the ride home.
Kayla meets Gabe (Jake Ryan) at a terrifying birthday party for a popular girl. Gabe’s as nerdy and weird as she feels she is, but he invites her out. That’s a big step for her.
Eighth Grade puts you right in the middle of it. That’s its power. You are there with Kayla – hiding in her phone, staring at the computer all night alone in a dark room, conducting awkward conversations with boys she likes and girls who hate her.
The film is so immediate and so compelling that you can’t look away. It’s also a perfect showcase for the bright new talent Elsie Fisher. She tells Kayla’s story with stooped shoulders, the downward tilt of her head, and the sheer humiliation of being a 13 year old girl written in her eyes.
You can catch the film on Amazon Prime and a couple of other streaming services.
Have you seen Eighth Grade? Share your thoughts about it in the comments.