Once in a blue moon, a movie comes along that perfectly defines a generation. A movie that gets to the very core of what it means to be a person in a specific time. This is that movie for my generation. Eighth Grade is the film of the decade.
I know what you’re thinking. Classic Ethan, hyperbolically praising a film just because it strikes a chord with some particular niche that he likes. But you’re wrong. I may be ahead of the curve here, but I am very confident that once the 2010’s have come and gone, and psychologists and whomever else have had a moment to really understand the post-millennial generation, this film will stand out as a perfect encapsulation of the era. No one else has ever delivered a movie this accurate, this genuine, without some aspect of it coming off as pandering or misinformed. Bo Burnham’s directorial debut is an absolute knockout. He captures adolescent life with such a perfect lens that it is hard to accept that he himself is almost thirty. He perfectly understands the horrible, terrifying pain of being thirteen. The anxieties of mere social interaction being, at that moment, the genuine worst thing one can experience. But the magic of the film comes from the fact that Burnham doesn’t make fun of it, or undercut the validity of these middle schooler’s struggles. For Kayla, the shy center of this immensely personal film, it really is the end of the world. Those of us who have lived through it, are able to laugh in the more comedic scenes, and cringe in the harder to watch sequences, because of how perfectly sympathetic it all is.
What I love most about what Bo has accomplished here is that no moment of the film feels unnecessary. He doesn’t feel the need to push it out of the realm of believability, or the need to introduce an outlandish conflict to make the film more cinematic. An incredible sequence in which Kayla goes to a pool party is framed like a bonafide horror movie, but Bo doesn’t go for any cheap tricks. A lesser director would have stuck in a period scare or someone making an offensive comment about her body. But none of this is necessary, as he just plays out the normal situation and lets us fill in the gaps based on our own experiences. You don’t need to have had snapchat in middle school to relate to this film, quite the contrary. Because as far as I’m concerned, there is one universal constant. Everyone had a horrible eighth grade.
Of course, the beating heart of this movie is Elsie Fisher as Kayla. She is phenomenal. Occupying nearly every frame, but speaking very little, the things she does with her eyes and her posture are nothing short of brilliant. She is able to communicate her mood or her thoughts with nothing but an eye movement, a trait that many adult actors struggle to master. You fall in love with her in an instant, wishing deeply that she wouldn’t make certain decisions, but accepting with an unfortunate sigh that, you too made the same mistake when you were her age. The word “revelation” gets thrown around a lot, but I don’t think there has ever been a more appropriate candidate than Elsie Fisher. She is THAT good. Of course, she is supported by a wonderful supporting cast, all of whom are actually the age of their character, a concept in Hollywood that is rarer than snowflakes in August. I personally was very impressed by Emily Robinson, who plays her high school mentor. She had an exceptional genuineness to her that is often overlooked in a film oozing with as much talent as this. And then, of course, there is Josh Hamilton as the dad. Absolutely fantastic. He has a monologue towards the end of the film that had me on the floor.
Please, please, please go see Eighth Grade. It is an incredible work of art. It’s equal parts hilarious and terrifying. Heart-warming and heart-breaking. See it to support independent film at its finest. See it to support films that take their subject matter seriously. See it to support new talent and their immense potential. See it to support film in general. But most importantly, see it to say you were there for the defining film of a generation. See it, see it, see it.
All images are from Eighth Grade, a film by A24