I could probably count on two hands the number of films that have had a significant impact on me. These films leave me pondering for days after the initial watch. Eighth Grade is one of those films. Bo Burnham's work here is raw, emotional, genuine and entirely relatable that I was speechless by the end of the journey. I intentionally use the word "journey" because watching Eighth Grade truly felt like one. Each scene was delicately crafted vignettes of Middle School life in 2018. Burnham permitted enough comedic moments to remind us of the simplicity that is adolescence, whether we felt it at that age or not, but also did not hold back on the cold realities of adolescence as well. Active shooter drills, premarital sex, social media addiction, and sexual harassment all find themselves as a piece of the story in the main character, Kaya's, eighth-grade life.
The film quickly sent me back to my years as an insecure middle schooler. Although it was hard to relate with Kayla on many things (an introverted female with no mother, who is a middle schooler in 2018), there are certain qualities of adolence and middle school years that everyone can relate to. The fear of high school or the nervousness of making friends was all too accurately portrayed. Elsie Fisher brings a superb awareness and emotional depth to her performance as Kayla. There were moments that felt so real, I had to remind myself this was a scripted film. That's good acting.
I work with many Generation Z students and teens, and this is the most accurate portrayal of that generation I have ever seen. The emotional escapism that plagues Generation Z as they hide behind their screens was so poignant and nuanced, yet not preachy in any sense. While many teen angst/coming of age stories rely heavily on contrived plots and stereotyped characters, Burnham breaks through with an authenticity that is rarely seen. Burnham says, “I wanted to capture what they (Eighth graders) were. Hopefully, maybe, they would like it. That’s my problem with stuff about teens, it’s clearly made for teens, which is not the same as making something truthful necessarily.”
I have to say, my expectations for this film were relatively high as it holds a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, and has been a critical darling riding into awards season. Not to mention my adoration for the production house A24 that picked it up at Sundance this year. So I was pleasantly surprised as my expectations were met (a rarity for me during awards season). Eighth Grade is now at Redbox and is certainly worth your time, it slipped quickly to the top of my "Best Films of 2018" list.