Eighth Grade - Review
Eighth Grade is exactly what I would have expected from Bo Burnham. A bold, colorful first time feature. A stark contrast from practically everything he's done before. A possible launching pad for Elsie Fisher, one of the most honest looking actresses of the last few years. Burnham's script is rock solid; it could have been co-written by actual eighth graders. Jokes are authentic, and tears are earned. Bo has his finger on the pulse of youth in Eighth Grade, and his taste for a first time filmmaker is remarkably defined.
At less than two hours long, Eighth Grade is not an epic. Even so, the possibility of scenes wasted or generic filler was high, yet Burnham manages to create a film so well paced that it feels less like a week of middle school and more like a summer blockbuster.
Opening monologue shots are back, I'm calling it. As a big Annie Hall fan, I think this is an amazing way to start the film, several minutes of uncut Elsie. Her honesty is immediate: acne, awkward mannerisms, and a true eighth grader's fashion sense introduce us to her before she even speaks. When she does, her dialogue is so natural and stuttered I thought she was making it up on the spot. This effect lasts throughout, an achievement on its own, but when paired with the incredible script and acting by Josh Hamilton, it becomes something more. Hamilton plays Kayla's dad, an adorable goofball who embodies the term "dork". His first scenes establish a deep if recently frayed connection with Kayla, which is never fully explained. That's ok, since Eighth Grade always makes the next scene more interesting than the last. Even at his worst or most embarrassing moments, Hamilton's character displays world class empathy, seen in his eyes more than anything else. It doesn't matter why their relationship is the way it is, just that it's hard right now.
Eighth Grade is incredibly funny, specifically when introducing Kayla's crush (who happens to have won the "best eyes" superlative). Crashes of electronic music soundtrack the entire film, and it is used to creative effect more than once. Also, yet another memorable karaoke scene this year! That puts our total up to three.
Elsie Fisher is the clear star of Eighth Grade, maintaining likability despite appearing in almost every frame and guiding every decision of the film. It sort of feels like being dragged around by an eighth grader for a week of her life, forced to experience the fallout of all her decisions in real time. When the film gets more dramatic, it stumbles slightly in its flawless execution of real world situations, but more than makes up for it in Kayla and her father's relationship dynamic. The world through an eighth grader's eyes is horrible, enticing, and raw, and it has helped to inform one of the best films of the year.