Everyone has been through middle school.
No one particularly looks upon it fondly. In fact, most people reflect back on it with a certain degree of agony. “Eighth Grade,” comedian Bo Burnham’s first feature in the writer/director’s chair, perfectly captures that preteen angst.
Following Kayla (Elsie Fisher), an acne-riddled, phone-absorbed girl who has just won the yearbook superlative “most quiet,” the film gives a play-by-play of every little detail that has ever made us squirm about our past selves. It’s a story that really hits home with its accuracy. Boys make farting noises with their mouths, girls freak out about what they’re wearing to the mall, etc. Kayla finds herself growing up in an uncomfortably familiar world of heightened emotions, naively accelerated sex standards and social media saturation. She is beginning to make really deep connections with her surroundings, but still has no idea what she’s doing.
Kayla’s father (Josh Hamilton) is constantly begging her to talk to and make friends with her school peers, and she wishes she could be cool enough to fit in. Instead, she just wrecks her confidence by giving social advice on her YouTube channel—and then not taking it.
Taking place entirely in the last week of Kayla’s eighth-grade experience, her tumultuous journey navigating boys and friendship and anxiety comes to its peak. Whether it’s her forced attendance at a popular girl’s pool party or trying to befriend high school seniors, each moment of “Eighth Grade” has a delightfully embarrassing reminiscence to it, and Burnham’s choices throughout the film orchestrate that wonderful awkwardness. From the dramatic music that pairs with Kayla’s emotions to the symbolic choices in the mise en scene of each interaction, every inch of this film screams adolescent nostalgia.
The fact alone that Burnham decided to tell this story through the perspective of a girl instead of telling his own story makes the film interesting enough. But the casting choices really make this a great film. Fisher, who has just graduated middle school herself, absolutely nails the role, her anxiety so thinly veiled behind an air of preteen indifference. It is a joy to watch the intricacies of her performance as she desperately tries to keep her emotions in check. And Hamilton wins our hearts as the goofy, earnest father who tries to watch his daughter grow up without interfering.
Though Burnham has cultivated a name for himself in the comedy realm, the film boasts more than just a handful of jokes. Be prepared to be taken back—and feel a little more than you expect—in this gem of a film. “Eighth Grade” starts at Midtown Cinema in early August.
National Theatre Live
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”
Monday, Aug. 13, 7 p.m.
“Toy Story” (1995)
Friday, Aug. 24
Film starts at dusk. Rain date on Aug. 25.
Anime Film Festival
Bring the Baby
“My Best Friend’s Wedding” (1997)
Sunday, Aug. 26, 7 p.m.
Down in Front! Presents
“The Time Travelers” (1964)
Friday, Aug. 31, 9:30 p.m.