While watching Eighth Grade, I began reminiscing about my time back in middle school (and high school for that matter because barely anything changed). I’m kind of nervous about telling you all this because it seems personal to me, but its got a lot to do with the review so I’ll bite.
Eighth Grade is bold, inspiring and honest in its portrayal of the highs and lows of American middle school life through the eyes of a socially awkward middle schooler. Being a citizen from another country and having attended middle school over there, it sort of amazes me how similar it is in both cultures. I grew up in an Asian country throughout most of my life before I attended university in Canada, though I went through an international school that utilizes the British system to its full effect. During that time people invited others to their own house parties, school concerts were hosted where students had to participate in them, and we also started learning about reproductive organs and how they functioned. Just like how it was presented in this film (though there weren’t any school shooter drills because we never really had that problem in the country). Despite the similarities though, I couldn’t help but notice many differences in both. For one, in American schools there seem to be lockers lining the hallways indoors. However, in my school all the lockers were placed out in the open. Plus, rather than having all the classrooms take place in a single massive building, the classes me and my classmates needed to venture into were scattered throughout the campus. It felt more like a university than your average school.
Kayla is highly relatable as a protagonist from my perspective. Just like her, I was also extremely nervous, shy and socially anxious. Unlike most kids my age, I wasn’t particularly popular, and I was about as successful in securing friendships as a bird is in lifting a massive boulder with its claws. To reiterate, I was kind of the social outcast back in those days. While I did end up breaking out of my shell eventually, my experience in middle school was lonely and awkward. Just like Kayla’s in fact. And that’s why I relate to her to an extraordinary degree. If you’ve ever been the unpopular kid back at school, you’d understand what it feels like to stand awkwardly at the back of the room during music class while everyone else is playing their instruments or being the last person people pick for their teams in P.E, or in being the type of person that barely gets invited to house parties. To Kayla, establishing all these connections and being open in communicating with her classmates is a chore for her. This is all shown effortlessly through her mannerisms and speech. When faced with another student, she speaks in jumbled up sentences and a faltering tone, and often avoids eye contact with individuals she feels uncomfortable being around. In one scene at a house party, Kaya locks herself in a bathroom and stares long and hard at her reflection, breathing frantically and nervously. The very thought of being in a classmate’s house for the first time is nerve racking to her. And because she’s unequipped to deal with these types of scenarios, she almost falls into a state of panic. Its like how we feel the first time we have to perform something on stage in front of a vast audience, or how we first step into a professional job interview.
What’s even more impressive is that this exists as Bo Burnham’s first ever feature length production. Notice how the camera is constantly positioned behind Kayla as she waddles awkwardly like a penguin through various social environments. That’s a neat little camera technique known as a “tracking shot,” which in Eighth Grade’s case is utilized to emphasize Kayla’s sense of discovery as she finds out new things about how to interact in situations like these. The film also has some unorthodox editing techniques shown through the use of audio. Music crescendos in volume to signify a transition from one scene to the next. For instance, there’s one moment when Kayla is staring at her belongings in class, and the sound of musical instruments playing suddenly blurts out of nowhere as the scene changes to her in music class. Sometimes, music is used to great effect in setting the mood of the situation. When Kayla sees her crush Aiden, loud rock music blares in the background as he moves in slow motion (to indicate Kayla’s fascination with his physique). This is all fitting to Aiden’s personality, as he’s presented as the typical high school edgelord. You know the kind that always feels as if he’s going to shoot up the school at any minute? Yea, that one. There’s also a neat little technique used where audio from Kayla’s videos play over certain pivotal moments. To be frank here, I thought it sometimes worked out well, as it shows that Kayla is almost advising herself on how to act out there and find confidence in life. Though there were a few scenes here and there where I felt it kinda took away the emotional impact. Nevertheless, this is all pretty impressive considering its Burnham’s first time directing a film. As I’ve stated in my It Comes at Night review, its always a blessing to see up and coming directors excel in their first ever productions, and here’s hoping Mr. Burnham can carry on this success throughout his career.
Elsie Fisher is magnificent as the shy and quiet Kayla. Throughout the majority of the film, I genuinely thought she was as awkward as her character. She perfectly embodies this role to the best of her ability, and for such a young actress to lose oneself completely in a character is phenomenal to say the least. Acting is hard, challenging business, and if you don’t have the chops, the drive and the talent for it, then you’re going to struggle. Fun fact: did you know she voiced Agnes from Despicable Me?
Now, I can’t help but also notice the similarities between this film and another film that came two years ago titled: Edge of Seventeen. Both flicks have a young, socially inept and anxiety filled teen as the main protagonist, both protagonists aspire to find acceptance in the world, both are completely stressed out about their current high school lives, and both films have a pool sequence. While I do honestly prefer Edge of Seventeen to Eighth Grade, that doesn’t stop me from acknowledging its strengths. There are laughs to be had in this film, even if they are few and far between. Middle Schoolers may be an annoying bunch of twats at times, but they also understand humour as a concept.
A24 seems to be saving movies by the dozen. Everything they’ve cranked out, from Hereditary to Good Time to Moonlight, and so on, have been astonishing in terms of sheer quality. These films have the best independent directors and writers working on them, pouring in all their hard-earned efforts to fashion works that would inspire and captivate audiences. And Eighth Grade is no bloody exception.
So, if you haven’t gotten the message yet, you should all check this film out. Its currently in theatres right now, and judging by its box office results, it may likely be staying on for at least a week or two. If you’re in Vancouver like I am, there are multiple showings in Cineplex Odeon at the International Village mall. And besides, its not like there’s any else remotely worth watching. I mean, I’m guessing you’ve all seen Mission Impossible and that one Ant Man movie, haven’t you? Guys…
Final verdict: 8/10