REVIEW: ‘Eighth Grade’ is a top tier coming-of-age film

Even though the only social media platforms I had in grade school was MSN Messenger and MySpace, I was still able to relate to much of what was going on in this feature. I think that will be the same for many people who watch this picture.

As one might guess, the movie is about the eighth grade. More specifically, it’s about Kayla (Elsie Fisher), a young girl going through the final days of her eighth grade year. She has her own Youtube channel where she gives out advice and often acts confident in front of the camera. However, in reality Kayla is much more of a shy and awkward person who appears to be an introvert.

As the days go by, Kayla experiences what most middle-schoolers go through, from school drills to dealing with other students. Through those experiences, the audience gets to know quite a bit about what the character is living through, both emotionally and mentally.

As a slice of life movie, “Eighth Grade” is very straightforward and simple when it comes to the story. At its core, the movie is just about a girl wrapping up the last days of a school year. This is a great benefit, as everything portrayed comes off as authentic and real. There’s a rawness to the movie, and that realism is kept from start to finish because the movie remains focused.

The picture always remains about Kayla’s life, detailing her experiences and interactions. The film never showcased any melodramatic side plots. By doing so, the whole product was rather genuine. Like any good slice of life movie, the story is straightforward, but there’s an incredible amount of depth to the picture overall.

Another strong aspect in “Eighth Grade” is just how well Kayla is written as a character. She’s not a caricature and she doesn’t just fall into a category. She also isn’t a self-insert character that’s just reacts to relatable situations.

Kayla is a well-developed protagonist who is her own person, and watching this character study about her is moving and effective. Powering the character was the phenomenal work of Elsie Fisher in the lead role.

As a character, Kayla has more than one side, with moments of insecurity at some points, sequences of anger at others, and so on. Fisher captures these moments, and the emotions that take place during them, incredibly well. One scene, for example, takes place where Kayla has a panic attack, and Fisher does a very honest portrayal.

The cast is very well rounded, too, with many of the young performers capturing that age where one tries to be confident, but sometimes it doesn’t always work. Another great cast member is Josh Hamilton, who plays Kayla’s single father. Hamilton nails the role of the parent who has to deal with their child who usually just wants to be left alone.

A lot of credit has to go to how well Director (and writer) Bo Burnham crafted this piece of art. The cinematography featured is on point, with many shots really putting scenarios into perspective. The film is always capturing just how much technology the characters are using and during tense sequences the lighting and shot selection is top tier.

There’s one moment in a car that’s especially uneasy and the lighting and camerawork really add to the situation. Praise also has to go to the score, which fantastically compliments each scene.

“Eighth Grade” is phenomenal coming of age cinema. It captures that awkwardness, insecurity, fear of the unknown and attempts to take steps forward so damn well. Look out for this one come award season, including in the Best Actress categories. 5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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