By guest reviewer: Simone Haight
Eighth Grade is the film the world needs right now. Combining humor with honesty, Burnham epitomizes 2018 and the modern age of social media. Burnham takes the audience back to their younger, awkward, more vulnerable years in a way that opens a conversation asking thoughtfully, “what the hell is happening with this new generation”? This is the first generation raised on social media. Growing up with hookup apps and Instagram edits and a world that highlights only the best of oneself and locks away any idea of insecurity that lies beyond the glowing screen. As a teenager myself, I found myself laughing, cringing, holding back tears and discomfort of just authentic Burnham’s portrayal of middle school life is, memes and all.
Kayla is a young teen with a YouTube channel in which she records videos with a faux confidence that she presents to her virtual audience. She gives advice that she herself would like to hear but does not act upon. This is something that many modern pre-teen girls, myself included, did and continue to do. We post hoping to get YouTube credibility that would one day lead to real life happiness or strength but in truth, it only leads to content we regret in the future and a remaining uncertainty of who we are.
As someone horrified of parties during my pre-teen years, I saw myself in Kayla (Elsie Fisher) as she struggled with overcoming social anxiety, learning to be confident, and making friends. Her relationship with her father (Josh Hamilton) is complicated, as they struggle to understand one another. It is refreshing to see a single dad combatting the stereotypical distant, absent, lonely man incapable of providing for his family. His relationship with Kayla mirrors the complexities of a father-daughter relationship in today’s day and age without the extra Hollywood flair seen all too often in the ‘slice of life’ film genre. Their bond feels real and relatable.
This brings me to the risky, honest, hyper-realistic casting. Burnham casts real kids to play kids, and real teens to play teens and it creates a reality that every viewer can grasp. I was expecting the typical growing up film, where kids look like models, or the actors are actually college-aged, and we as an audience are supposed to buy the idea that they’re “awkward” and “just like us”. In Eighth Grade, you see yourself in the struggling students and relate the outfits worn by the cast to the questionable fashion choices you and your friends made when you were that age. For me and the cast of Eighth Grade fitting in depended on Abercrombie tees and Justice cat ears to hide your insecurities, yet allow you to stand out simultaneously.
In minor details hidden throughout the film, you see true stereotypes of what middle school kids are today and the trends and memes that appeal to them. For example, bottle caps pop in the high school, a wild middle schooler hollers “Lebron James” during a drill, the slimy love interest puts on a Thrasher shirt before walking into the next room. Younger audiences will laugh at these moments where an older audience may not know these specific references but will still be entertained by the viewing experience.
With an exceptional cast, a thought-provoking yet enjoyable storyline, and all the nostalgia that no one wants to relive, Eighth Grade is as good as it gets for a coming of age story.
Simone’s rating: 4 of 5 stars
Director: Bo Burnham
Writer: Bo Burnham
Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan
Runtime: 93 minutes
Release date: July 20, 2018
MPAA rating: R