Last year, Eighth Grade premiered in the US to critical acclaim, despite that it has taken a while to get to the UK. Now, Bo Burnham’s debut feature has been released in the UK and I have to say that I want to know what the distributers were smoking when they decided to release on the same day as Avengers: Endgame. It’s been swept under the rug slightly, especially given how all the big awards shows ignored it in favour of mediocre fare that should not have even been nominated (I’m looking at you, Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody). That’s a big shame, because it is very deserving of your attention.
Describing the plot of Eighth Grade is hard because there isn’t one. It’s about eighth grader and occasional YouTube Vlogger Kayla’s (Elsie Fisher) attempts to manage her life for a week. She deals with her father’s (Josh Hamilton) attempts to connect with her and her own attempts to come out of her own awkward shell. That’s it. However, that is not a problem at all, as it makes the story feel more overwhelmingly realistic than many other films in this genre. Despite Bo Burnham being a guy in his 20s, it feels like he can express what it is like to be a 13-year-old girl of this generation better than most 13-year-old girls. This understanding is crucial in creating a film that feels highly authentic.
The other main strength is that, out of all the coming of age films I’ve seen this decade, this is the one that I related to the most. Every aspect of Kayla’s life, personality and the environment had something about it that I could connect with. The overall themes of change (or lack thereof) and compatibility are ones that I could also relate to, as these are parts of my life that I have a hard time embracing and making work. I got so involved in the film’s environment that I even reacted to certain characters like how I would react to people in real life, rather than treating them as characters to be analysed. I also related to the heavy focus on social media, as I will admit that I go on the internet and my phone far more than I should.
The acting from everyone is exceptionally good, mainly because writer/director Bo Burnham understands how real people act. Every actor in the film speaks as if they are improvising, whether they be main characters or extras. Elsie Fisher delivers a fantastic performance that never hits a wrong note. She is shy and reserved, but she also successfully portrays someone who can be very assured, as seen in the various YouTube videos that are shown throughout the film. Josh Hamilton is also incredibly endearing as Kayla’s father and his final monologue is genuinely emotional.
Direction-wise, this is a great debut. Despite Bo Burnham being more known as a comedian than a filmmaker, he creates a film that has a strong sense of atmosphere. This is shown in the heavy use of montage and the well composed and chosen soundtrack. The tone is relentlessly serious but there’s the occasional moment of comedy to balance it out. A school shooting drill sequence is worrying, but it is lightened by a hilarious non-conversation. The now famous “Truth or Dare” scene is one that would be naturally creepy on its own but is even more chilling due to how it is handled, with the direction creating a sequence that is unpredictable and intense without having any overbearing music or over the top acting.
Eighth Grade is admittedly dependent on viewers relating to it, because someone who may not might just dismiss this film as another teen flick. But if you are willing to be swept up in the story that Bo Burnham tells, you will find yourself getting a lot out of this film. It is an incredibly successful film and I hope that it becomes a classic in the future.