With Eighth Grade, writer-director Bo Burnham has done more than establish himself as a talent to watch. He’s established himself as something of a master right now. He’s crafted a pitch perfect evocation of the awkwardness of that transition to high school, but also a kind of awkwardness that never quite leaves a person alone. First of all, praise has to go to Elsie Fisher who is absolutely star-making in this performance as Kayla. This is a movie that would have fallen apart completely with a weak lead performance, but Fisher just knocks it out of the park. Every emotion rings completely true and she’s able to make you cringe, laugh and empathize with every struggle her character faces. Josh Hamilton is wonderful in support as her bumbling, but good-hearted dad. The script is smart and funny in all the right ways, but it also knows how to tug at the heartstrings. This certainly has a lot of cringe comedy in it, but, in contrast to a lot of cringe comedy, this movie also has a deep well of affection and love for its characters. The awkward cringing is really evocative; after one particularly awkward social encounter, someone said, “That’s exactly how I felt in eighth grade,” to which I responded, “That’s exactly how I felt last week.” Capturing that extra layer isn’t easy, but Burnham and Fisher have done it. The comedy lands perfectly. There’s a scene involving a banana that is one of the most perfectly written & performed comedic scenes of the year, to the degree that I still laugh even just thinking about it. But the film isn’t afraid to tackle serious topics. There’s a sequence that’s genuinely painful to watch at one point where an older boy tries to manipulate Kayla into doing things she doesn’t want to do and it almost makes you sick and it does make you angry. And the film also pulls off moments of really sweet, tender emotions as in a really wonderful fireside scene between Kayla and her dad near the end of the film. I’ll admit I was getting a little nervous as the end approached; I really didn’t want to see the film blow the ending after working at such a high level for most of its running time, but I also couldn’t really figure out how the movie should end. Well, trust Burnham, I guess, because he really nailed the ending and watch Fisher in those closing moments too; she’s an incredibly subtle actor and she communicates a lot in very simple physical ways. This is really a wonderful movie that succeeds at basically everything it tries to do. And it tries for some intense things in terms of tonal shifts and character building. It’s really a masterpiece honestly, the kind of movie they don’t make nearly often enough. 4 stars.
tl;dr – wonderful movie captures cringy awkwardness, hilarious comedy and heart-tugging drama to perfection; a true star-turn from Elsie Fisher and a whip-smart script make this a classic. 4 stars.