‘Eighth grade is the worst…’
Each generation often has a mild dislike of, or at least a feeling of bewilderment toward, the generation that comes after them. Fashion, music and attitudes are often at odds depending on what decade one is born into. Teenagers today have painfully little in common culturally with a dinosaur like me (something that is made apparent almost daily by the continuous eye rolling my ‘humour’ inspires in my job as a teacher). And yet, everyone has been a teenager at some point, and while each generation genuinely is different, there are some constants that anchor us all to our teenage years. A desperation to fit it. Social anxiety. Constant worrying about our physical appearance. These are the key tenets of adolescence, and that is why teen movies remain so hideously popular. The themes are universal. The embarrassments remembered. Eighth Grade is the latest addition to this vast, never ending canon, and it is a very good addition indeed…
Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) is a totally normal teenager on the cusp of starting high school. Brought up by her perennially awkward dad Mark (Josh Hamilton), Kayla is an introverted girl who turns to the blogosphere and social media for comfort. Eighth Grade follows her last steps through middle school before she leaves childhood behind forever.
The great strength of Eighth Grade is its age appropriate casting. Elsie Fisher (who is excellent throughout) is the same age as her character, and this really shines through in the more awkward sequences (of which there are many). Josh Hamilton is hilarious and cringe worthy in equal measure, whilst also still finding time to cram in a whole lot of heart in a nuanced and enjoyable performance. Indeed, heart is the order of day throughout Eighth Grade, with writer/director Bo Burnham producing a script that is both authentic and heart-warming without ever straying into the dark waters of unearned sentimentality.
Eighth Grade isn’t particularly original (although it does feel more real than lots of its counterparts), but it is a film that everyone will relate to. It’s hard to imagine anyone managing to resist Kayla Day, such is her likability, and the film as a whole is just eminently watchable. An unqualified success.