We all remember our adolescence, for better or worse. For most people, it’s that unbelievably awkward and confusing time where the innocence of childhood comes crashing down but we’re not quite ready to grow up or even know how to grow up into equally awkward teenagers. Emphasis on the word “awkward.” It is a time of insecurity, anxiety and coming face-to-face with the kind of person you wish to be against the person you actually are. This is made even more awkward and difficult in today’s society of social media and instant access to information, where teens have to develop a social identity quickly or be left behind.
This is what makes Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade” so enlightening, speaking to that adolescence in all of us and playing the hopes and fears we all experienced at that age with brutal honest. The film is surprisingly relatable with how truthful it rings to these experiences, not pretending to be anything other than a modern coming-of-age story in all of its awkwardly glorious charm. The fact that Burnham casts real eighth-graders in these roles speaks to the honest nature of the movie, truly capturing what it means to be that age and learning about the real world.
The film follows Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher), a shy and unconfident teen in her last week of middle school. Kayla creates YouTube videos about self-improvement and confidence that get very few views, while also struggling to make new friends or even talk to other people at school, getting voted “Most Quiet” by her classmates. But with middle school coming to an end, Kayla is intent on making the most of it, hoping to follow her own YouTube advice and do something with her life.
“Eighth Grade” is the most honest yet awkward film of the year, perfectly emulating the feeling of being that age again without sugarcoating a second of it. This is the age of social insecurity, pimples and sexual awakening and Burnham knows that. The film reminds us of that time and how much we’ve grown since then, yet at the same time how much we’ve stayed the same. Elsie Fisher’s performance perfectly teeters between that awkwardly uncertain stage where she wants to be confident and certain but doesn’t know the best way to make others see it.
And believe me when I say this film is awkward. Every other moment has something cringey or out-of-place that makes the situation weird. Yet the film embraces that side of growing up, reminding us of that very same pain that we went through. “Eighth Grade” certainly reminded me of how I wasn’t all that different from Kayla growing up, uncertain and trying to impress others, but also reminded me that we’ll all grow up to be more confident and self-respecting, turning this coming-of-age tale in on itself as it’s just much about the audience as it is about Kayla.
Overall, “Eighth Grade” perfectly encapsulates a time in our lives that we may want to forget, but probably defined us more than any other point in our lives. With pitch-perfect casting and beautifully awkward pacing and humor, this film rings true to everyone who sees it. It is brutally honest without ever shying away from the harsh anxieties of growing up in a new-age of self discovery.
Final Grade: A-