Over the past few years, there has been quite the resurgence of the teen film. While John Hughes defined much of the 1980s, many filmmakers have contributed films to recent resurgence. Last “Lady Bird” found its way into a Best Picture lineup. “The Edge of Seventeen” and “Easy A” scored their lead actresses (Hailee Steinfeld and Emma Stone) Golden Globe nods. The quality of these films has been outstanding, and now, Bo Burnham will be adding to the resurgence. His film “Eighth Grade” is an astounding debut for Burnham and a breakout for its star Elsie Fisher. The resulting is one of the best films of 2018 and an instant classic.
“Eighth Grade” follows Kayla (Fisher), a young girl struggling through the last week of 8th grade. She’s a shy girl who not only craves friends but wants to be seen by her classmates. She uses social media nonstop, makes videos for YouTube and tries to manage the social pressures of school. Her Dad (Josh Hamilton) tries his hardest to make her feel positive about herself, but he doesn’t quite know what to do. The two of them make an extremely awkward pair, but this is just one of the many relationships that sings of authenticity.
Fisher is the undeniable star of the film. She brings vulnerability in spades into the film and lives in the character. There’s not a moment on screen that feels like you’re watching an actress play a shy girl wishing to be confident. Instead, you see a girl struggling with each moment. Her emotional reactions to life’s awkward moments and her triumphs will make you love this movie. Equally excellent is Hamilton, who nails the Dad part to perfection. He’s a sweet and sincere guy who is trying his hardest to make it work. His fears and love are on screen, even as he hides them through subtlety. It’s very strong work, and a monologue he gives towards the end of the film is one of the most beautiful scenes of 2018 so far.
Burnham brings this film to life with incredible style and a sharp script. The young director has a confidence in his visual style that is surprisingly strong. Clearly Burnham and cinematographer Andrew Wehde click because their shot composition is immaculate. They know just the right amount of time to hold the shots, and they work hard to give Fisher moments in the film that resonate with the audience. Their ability to stay in moments is excellent and makes it easy to feel the full emotion of each scene.
Burnham also shows his considerable talents as he overlays Kayla’s videos with moments in the film. Using the videos as voice-over adds significance to what we’re seeing on screen, and in some cases provides a cognitive dissonance for how Kayla’s life is going. Her videos and their narratives paint a picture of someone who is very different than the girl we see on camera. Her desire to be more than what she is creates a true vulnerability that gives you insight into her dreams. Burnham gives each of Kayla’s moments the proper importance as Kayla would believe they hold. From her first pool party to talking to her crush, to throwing her phone across her bedroom when her dad walks in, Burnham gives these moments the proportional attention they deserve.
Last, this script is funny. Very very funny. Burnham seems to understand the average high schooler today in ways that few can. The film is filled with loving jokes for its characters and puts them in awkward situations from beginning to end. His writing for Fisher creates accidental comedy for her, making you wish she wasn’t going through this experience. Yet other times, he perfectly utilizes Hamilton to draw out a joke, sometimes leaning on the recurrence of the joke that makes it funnier with each reiteration. Burnham’s love and warmth towards these characters is present throughout, but like life, he reminds us that sometimes there’s humor in our greatest tragedies.
“Eighth Grade” is one of the most sincere and authentic films of the year. You will laugh, and likely cry depending on the moment in the film. You will love some characters while hating others for their actions. There is tension wound tight, and there are human moments throughout. This is one of the best films, from its direction, screenwriting, and performances of 2018. If nothing else, you’ll leave the theater wondering what Fisher and Burnham have next on the horizon. It’s going to be a bright future for both.