If Bo Burnham has plans from November 2018 to March 2019, he should cancel them immediately because Burnham and Eighth Grade will be invited to every major awards ceremony.
Eighth Grade follows Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) throughout her last week of junior high school. Kayla is a sweet, kind 13-year-old who battles with nerves and social anxiety in her day-to-day life. From the pressures of attending a pool party to the constant struggle to be cool, Kayla will do anything to fit in. To combat her shyness, Kayla posts advice videos on YouTube as a way to make her life meaningful and combat her lack of a social life. Besides dealing with her snobby classmates, Kayla also battles with her quirky, but sweet father, Mark Day (Josh Hamilton), who would give anything for his daughter to be happy.
The three-headed monster of Burnham, Fisher, and Hamilton elevate Eighth Grade from a typical coming-of-age film to a spectacular view of adolescence in 2018. Burnham, in his feature-film directorial and writing debut, expertly captured the social media craze of 2018, where kids are glued to their phones and obsess over the right angle to take a selfie. Burnham’s script gives viewers who did not grow up in the social media era a taste of what it’s like to live in this day and age. Because the same problems associated with puberty, sexuality, and awkwardness are universal, Burnham’s film is relatable to all age groups.
This film does not succeed without its fantastic lead, Elsie Fisher. The word “incredible” does not even begin to describe this young actor’s performance. Fisher’s ability to capture the timid and nervous eighth grader was second to none. The scenes over sexual issues make you cringe, but they are real issues that both young boys and girls experience everyday. Discussing blowjobs with her crush, looking up techniques for oral sex, and practicing on a banana are awkward to watch. The culmination of these sexual issues happens when an older boy named Riley (Daniel Zolghadri) pressures Kayla into taking her shirt off, which makes you feel sick to your stomach. There are times in the film where I wanted to jump through the screen and give her a hug and tell her that everything is going to be alright.
Although the audience could not give her a hug, the man that could be there for Kayla was her caring father, Mark, played by the superb Josh Hamilton. Kayla’s mother left the duo early on in their lives so a single father trying to build a strong relationship with his daughter is no easy task. Despite Kayla’s reluctance to talk to her father, Mark never gives up because he only wants what’s best for her daughter. In the climatic scene of the movie, Mark delivers an emotional speech that won’t leave a dry eye in the theater.
It scenes like Mark’s speech that captures the essence of growing up. No one ever said it was easy, but it can and it will get better and that’s the message that Burnham successfully conveys. Although this is a small independent film, the word-of-mouth alone should keep the film in theaters for awhile. Are Oscars in the future for the trio? Let’s just say that if Burnham receives zero nominations for his work, it will be a travesty.
Eighth Grade is awkward, cringeworthy, heartwarming, and accurate, which is why it is one of the best films of the year.
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