Very rarely does a film come along that is such a sheer delight all you want to do is watch it over and over again. Eighth Grade is one of these extraordinary gems, a film that is overflowing with insight, wit and humanity. Coming-of-age dramas are a well traversed genre and can so often fall into cliché especially for first-time filmmakers who are yet to find their voice. Yet Bo Burnham’s first feature Eighth Grade feels utterly fresh, relevant and self-assured. Burnham’s 12-year comedy career has no doubt helped refine his particular brand of humour, but it’s still a staggering achievement to create such an accomplished first film.
Eighth Grade opens on Kayla (Elsie Fisher) filming a YouTube video for her almost non-existent subscriber base. She dishes out life advice and gives a monologue on “being yourself” then signs off with her“Gucci!” catchphrase. However, like many kids, Kayla finds it difficult to practise what she preaches on social media and at school she’s shy, quiet and insecure. While at home she spends most of her time glued to her phone, deflecting her dad’s (Josh Hamilton) meaningful attempts to engage in conversation. Kayla has just one week of eighth grade to navigate before she reaches high school. During this time, she reluctantly attends a popular girl’s birthday pool party, struggles to form coherent sentences in-front of her crush Aiden (Luke Prael), and befriends her high school buddypartner Olivia (Emily Robinson). There’s hardly a moment where you’re not laughing, crying, or cringing at this honest, nuanced portrait of teenage life.
Known for providing the voice for Agnes in the Despicable Me franchise, Elsie Fisher gives a truly revelatory, breakthrough performance in Eighth Grade. Kayla is such an achingly real depiction of millennial adolescence and it’s thanks to Fisher’s extremely endearing, genuine turn that the film is such a joy. She completely nails the self-conscious awkwardness of this transitory period and delivers her stumbling, nervous dialogue flawlessly. Often it feels like you’re watching a documentary, such is the authenticity of Fisher’s performance. The supporting teen cast are entirely convincing too and Hamilton puts in a sweet and compassionate turn as Kayla’s caring dad.
It’s a marvel that Burnham has constructed such an accurate portrayal of the teen girl experience considering he’s a 27-year old man. Burnham’s script feels entirely alive with its subtle, realistic dialogue and amazing empathy towards the challenges and anxiety that teens face in 2018. There’s so much to recognise and relate too in Burnham’s superb script and he directs with a confidant, deft hand too – humorously capturing the ways teenagers interact with social media. Anna Meredith’s lively, pounding electronic score imbues the film with real vigour and even helps draw out some laughs when it accompanies slow-motion shots of Kayla’s dreamy crush Aiden.
Charming, poignant, hilarious and cringe-inducing Eighth Grade is a modern coming-of-ager made with real candour and features a spellbindingly lovable performance from Fisher. Burnham has undeniable talent behind the camera and has set himself a seriously high bar with this astonishing first film.