Eighth Grade: Teen Angst Explored in Poignant Coming-of-Age Comedy-Drama
By Kam Williams
Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) is starting her last week of middle school, and graduation can’t come soon enough for her. After all, the lonely, 13-year-old has just been voted “Most Quiet” by her classmates, despite being desperate to make friends.
Nevertheless, she finds herself routinely ignored because she’s overweight, pimply, and not from a prominent family. So, between being ostracized by the popular cliques and going unnoticed by the cute boy (Luke Prael) she has a crush on, Kayla leads a very solitary and unhappy existence.
It doesn’t help matters that she’s an only child, and that her well-meaning single dad (Josh Hamilton) doesn’t have a clue about how to connect with a daughter growing up in the Digital Age. The two barely talk to each other at the dinner table. She just scrolls through social media on her cell between bites while grudgingly giving monosyllabic responses to his questions about how her day went.
However, we see a whole other side of Kayla as soon as she retreats to her bedroom where she hosts a show on her own YouTube channel. There, she doles out precocious advice daily to fellow teens on such topics as “How to be confident” and “Putting yourself out there,” invariably signing off with the optimistic exclamation, “Gucci!” Too bad she has a hard time conquering her own fears in real life.
For example, at her father’s insistence, she reluctantly attended the birthday pool party of Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere), a mean girl whose mother had extended the invitation. Kayla felt so uncomfortable after being teased about the present she brought and about how she looked in a bathing suit, that she called home to be picked up early.
Thus unfolds Eighth Grade, a haunting, coming-of-age dramedy marking the impressive writing and directorial debut of actor Bo Burnham (Rough Night). The film also features a breakout performance by Elsie Fisher, who is oh so convincing as the beleaguered protagonist at the center of the story. One can’t help but cringe watching her tortured character’s palpable angst about being bullied.
Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity, sexuality, and mature themes. Running time: 94 minutes. Production Studios: A24 Films/Scott Rudin Productions. Distributor: A24 Films.