It is Kayla Day’s (Elsie Fisher) last week in the eighth grade before the class breaks for summer. She may be moving onto high school but the awkwardness and anxieties of adolescence continue to plague her.
Now and again there comes a film that you relate to so readily that watching it is a deeply moving, wholesome experience. For this reviewer, ‘Lady Bird’ was the last film for which that happened. Where fellow coming-of-age story ‘Eighth Grade’ differs is not only in looking at a younger age bracket, but also its contemporary setting. If this is what comedian-turned-director Bo Burnham can produce in a debut feature, what he follows it with will be unmissable..
There are so many elements of Kayla Day’s final week in middle school that viewers will recognise from their childhoods. There’s the end of year ‘awards’ (varying from ‘nicest eyes’ to ‘most quiet’, they were typically painful and uncomplimentary), the rubbish school band, the try-hard parents and nonchalant teens. But more affecting is how real and sad Kayla Day is. The teenager is crippled by shyness and a nervous disposition. She doesn’t have a bad bone in her body yet she has no friends. Social media dominates her life as she posts pictures on Snapchat and videos on Youtube. At night, she alternates between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more, taking pointless Buzzfeed quizzes (‘What’s your favourite ’) and scrolling endlessly through feeds. It’s clear she’s driven by a need to connect and for Generation Z, this is how you go about it.
‘Eighth Grade’ is punctuated by charmingly awkward and humorous conversations as Kayla tries to talk to her crush and the girls in her class. Kayla’s father (played by Josh Hamilton) seems totally confused as to how to approach his daughter. He can see her loneliness, but she cuts herself away from him. Later, Kayla meets a high school student named Olivia (Emily Robinson) who takes her under her wing and offers comforting advice about how it gets better in high school. When Olivia invites her to hang out, it means the world to Kayla.
Thus ‘Eighth Grade’ is sweet and often funny, but there’s also something sad about it. You can’t help but be moved by Kayla’s plight, and that’s owing to the fact that Elsie Fisher is genuine perfection in the role. The overvaluation of being ‘cool’ and confident is infuriating because it causes Kayla such pain and misery. The ending, fortunately, is realistically optimistic, the highlight of the final act being a conversation Kayla has with her father in which she realises that at the end of the day, being a nice, good person is the most important thing, really.