Eighth Grade Review
R: Language and some sexual material
1 Hr and 34 Minutes
Writer/Dir: Bo Burnham
Cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Fred Hechinger
Can we all agree that eighth grade is one of the worst years a developing child can endure? Nobody that I know actually enjoyed eighth grade. But leave it to no other than Bo Burnham to make us reminisce about one of the most awful times in our lives with an original comedy that gives the middle finger to all movies set in middle school.
Kayla is a 13-year-old who must endure the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through her last week of middle school -- and the end of one disastrous year of eighth grade.
I swear it feels as if Burnham was watching “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” one day and said, “What the hell? This isn’t what middle school was like!!” Whereas other filmmakers would diminish the realities of middle school by pandering to a younger demographic, Burnham grounds the entire story in reality. He isn’t hyperbolic with his characters, but he perfectly portrays character types that we’ve all known in middle school. The way his characters talk to each other is real and akin to people that we’ve most likely encountered in our lives. There are so many characters that we can all identify with. I felt like a checklist was going off in my head where I knew the awkward geeky kid or the spoiled mean girl, and then I just got terrible flashbacks to 8th grade.
It is ironic that Burnham’s demographic is mostly teenage girls so it would only be right that Burnham’s first feature would be centered on one.
While he is writing a character he could never fill the shoes of, you get the idea of how much of his own middle school experiences he’s incorporating in the script but in a more modernized time. Thankfully, this is not a movie that is too reliant on social media, for it is incorporated as a means to develop Kayla’s character. The film features constant pop culture references to very recent things such as ‘Rick and Morty’ and the szechuan sauce and laughable slang such as LIT or GUCCI, but the way the characters interact with each other and how their personalities shine makes the narrative timeless.
While Bo Burnham is the genius behind the screen, the movie is fearlessly led by Elsie Fisher. If that sounds familiar it’s because you might know her as the voice actress behind this loveable character:
Yup, Fisher was Agnes from the first two “Despicable Me” movies. Now that little voice actress is in her teenage years (which explains why she didn’t reprise her role for “Despicable Me 3”) and carries this movie with her two hands. You know the infamous father/son Kamehameha that Goku and Gohan pulled off in “Dragon Ball Z”? Well, Fisher and Burnham kind of do the exact same where Fisher delivers through the ghost of Burnham and beams a light so powerful the academy is currently shaking.
For her first onscreen leading performance, Elsie Fisher delivers a completely immaculate performance, for she truthfully captures all of the timid and socially awkward aspects of a teenager - not just a teenage girl, but a teenage person in general. Watching Kayla’s struggle to interact with others and the built up social anxieties she would face reminded me so much of myself back in middle school. Even some of the pauses in her dialogue in which she repeatedly stutters by saying “like” and “um” are reminiscent of how I used to carry myself during that time to an extent that some of those even carried on to this day (mostly the stuttering part). Fisher exceptionally expresses all of the vulnerable qualities a 13-year-old would embody, from trying the most to impress others, trying to be expressive, trying to get your crush to notice you, and most of all:
Fisher balances comedy amazingly well, but there comes a terrifying sequence where she has to be dramatic and she excels at that as well. From Thomasin McKenzie to Fisher, the academy is going to have a field day nominating a lot of young talent at next year's Oscars.
And while they’re at it they better nominate Josh Hamilton for best supporting actor as Kayla’s dad who tries his damn best to make sure his daughter is happy. His chemistry with Fisher is the emotional core of the film and while she lashes out at him a lot you see the various efforts Kayla’s dad makes. But what certifies him as an early contender is one amazing speech he delivers towards the final moments of the movie. It’s as if Hamilton just got out of the Michael Stuhlbarg school of powerful parent speeches because his words are so moving by the third act that it just melts your heart. His performance not only shows Burnham’s outstanding direction, but also his original screenplay for being organically truthful throughout.
For this being Bo Burnham’s directorial debut, his direction, I would say, is very standard where there aren’t any intricate shots or an impressive style of filmmaking, but he manages to get nothing but great performances from his entire cast.
I’m just going to come out and say it: comedians are the most innovative and creative minds working in the film industry today. You got your studio filmmakers who make huge spectacles that are valuably entertaining, but comedians know how to tell stories, and not just in the genre you would expect them to dive into. From Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls” to Kumail Nanjiani/Emily Gordon’s “The Big Sick” to Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” to now Bo Burnham’s (WHO WAS IN “THE BIG SICK”) “Eighth Grade”, you have a wide variety of excellent features that tell amazing and heartfelt stories, whether they be comedy or horror or any other genre. I blame Mel Brooks for all of this. Mel Brooks started this comedian-being-amazing-filmmakers trend and now it is in its renaissance. Please, comedians... Please write and direct your stories because they’re much more impactful than the roles they give you in Hollywood sometimes.
Triggering in the best way imaginable, “Eighth Grade” is brilliantly reflective and a throwback to the worst year of an adolescent’s life, primarily benefited from Bo Burnham in his directorial debut and breakout star Elsie Fisher.
Rating: 5/5 | 95%
Super Scene: Gabe and Kayla’s lunch