During the middle school trip to Washington, DC, I had a crush on this girl and was really hoping to get to dance with her at the celebration on the boat later that night. I was already riding high off my win at the dance competition (which was only possible because the good dancers had gotten in trouble earlier that evening), and I was ready to make my move. I asked the DJ if they had Lifehouse’s “You and Me” which earned a confused look and blunt rejection, but I didn’t let that stop me from holding my crush’s hands in the most cringy ritual society has to offer. Keep in mind, I said ‘hands.” No hand on the waist or lower back; simply two people holding each other’s hands. It was awkward, sweaty, and embarrassing.
Unlike my traumatic past, Eighth Grade is both brutal AND beautiful. The harsh existence of puberty and self-discovery on display feels more like a stripped-down documentary than any sort of theatrics. And yet, theatrics have long been a cornerstone of writer-director Bo Burnham’s resume. The standup comedian and Youtube sensation puts aside the dramatics of the stage for one of the most earnest and honest coming-of-age stories since Richard Linklater actually just followed a kid around for 12 years.
Eighth Grade follows an eighth grader named Kayla (the most Shyamalan twist of all!!) as she traverses the shark-infested waters of middle school. Elsie Fisher gives a powerhouse performance when the rest of film tends to settle for mostly okay-ish child actor work (Not you, Jacob Tremblay and Abraham Attah. Never you). Kayla is struggling to be noticed and accepted despite putting her everything out there. Josh Hamilton’s agent had better be doing him even more favors in the future, for his performance as Kayla’s dad serves as the second anchor to the emotional beats that play throughout this narrative. Touching and awkward, both stars are paired tremendously.
Because every boat has a third anchor, this film is not complete without Burnham. He navigates the halls of education and awkward romance without filter and speed, and yet the film feels precisely paced. Emotions creep over the theater seat like your childhood blankie, with warmth and smells that hit far too close to home. Leaving that dark room to once again whiff popcorn and squint at sunlight, it feels both right and wrong to put it behind you. Life is better now than it was in middle school, and yet that time can’t be ignored. Not if Bo Burnham has anything to say about it.
I give this film a 10 out of 10.