If I had to give the award for my surprising movie of the year, I would give it to Eighth Grade. The coming-of-age drama came to my attention through everyone talking about it on Twitter. When I saw my favorite filmmakers tweet about the film, I just had to give it a shot. Plus, there is nothing I am excited to see for another few weeks, so why not go to the movies?
Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is an eighth grader on her last week of middle school. All she must do is survive this last week of hell. The film is completely focused on her perspective and what is going on in her life. The troubles she faces is what we all suffered to some degree during that age. Those awkward teen years of not having the right social skills, dealing with popular kids with bad attitudes, sexual tensions, and the troubles of dealing with parents. Kayla has to go through it all and more. With the positives and negatives of social media, there is an added layer for my generation and the newest generation, Gen Z.
Elsie Fisher has a beautiful performance that feels natural throughout the entire movie. Whether you were that awkward kid in middle school or know that awkward kid in middle school, you can quickly identify with her character. A girl with only her father to take care of her and more focused on her phone than her dad. You feel her loneliness and her pain, along with her joy. The father, Mark (Josh Hamilton) is the typical awkward dad that tries to be funny but just annoys his child. He is the unsung hero and the biggest highlight of the film. While I do love Kayla as a character, the dad stole every scene. He was hilarious and heartfelt, which is the entirety of this movie. With other kids, she meets ranging from the awkward, but kind Gabe (Jake Ryan) to the popular stuck up girl Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere) to the high school kids such as Olivia (Emily Roberson) who all bring something different to Kayla’s life to let her grow as a person. Everyone is played out perfectly to make this story feel as real as possible.
The film is focused on mixing comedy and drama, which can be messy. Sometimes the comedy overpowers the drama or vice versa. Each scene is able to make a balance and transition between different tones without any problem. When the film wants you to feel for the painful moments, you will absolutely feel it. When the film wants you to laugh, then you will laugh out loud. The best way of describing this is that the film has a lot of heart. There are powerful messages that anyone can relate to along with hilarious and awkward moments to level out the seriousness.
As an indie film, there is a lot of interesting stylistic choices that shake things up for a more visually interesting movie. Transitions of Kayla’s social media and TV viewing fade in and out with her on her phone. Seeing her and what she is looking at is done with a style that looks good throughout the film. To make the audience feel the awkward moments, the camera often stays on long one-shots that help make the cringy scenes more effective.
Bo Burham’s experience is mostly with TV specials, but his directorial debut in a film is just about flawless. A relatable, heartfelt coming-of-age story of this girl is in middle school is one of the best movies of the year. Even with the generation that the film centers around, older generations can relate. Despite having social media and using different slang terms, the issues are all the same. This is not just a movie for modern teens, but a movie for everyone. The only problem I could possibly say is that some scenes run a little too long. That said, the film is an hour and thirty-four minutes, hard to complain over the length in something so short.
With that said, Eighth Grade is one of the most heartfelt, beautiful, relatable, and hilarious movies of the year. Anyone can relate to it to some degree, not just as a student, but if you are a parent with a teenager, then you might need to see the movie to understand your child a little better. The awkward scenes are filled throughout, so be prepared to squirm in your seat by how uncomfortable and cringy the entire movie is. The film tackles a lot of subjects and does them all justice. If you are a parent wanting to take your child just know this rated R movie is a light R. With some F-bombs, sexual tension, and discussions, that is all that you might need to worry about. Either way, this is one crucial movie that nobody should miss.
Image via A24