Writer/director Bo Burnham’s film debut with Eighth Grade is an entertaining, comedic and dramatic journey into the modern American middle-school system. It holds a hefty amount of commentary on realistic social life that may follow an average student within their school and outside in the surrounding community.
The cast was incredible throughout the film, even during moments of intense awkwardness and extreme realism. Elsie Fisher, who plays lead character Kayla, does an incredible job with her first live action film, and is the key factor in the immersion of this film. Alongside her, Mark Day (Josh Hamilton), Kayla’s father, adds a familial factor that only expands important themes beyond the boundaries of the school and into the community that surrounds it.
The film excels in sound-mixing, cinematography, screenplay. Whenever music or background noise was used in the film, it defined the tension. Whether the characters heard it or it was exclusive to the audience, the music rhythmically expressed a sense of dread, calm, or uncertainty. The camera work has as much significance in igniting the humor as the dialogue, and gives more insight into where the story is heading than the dialogue from the actors. Similarly, the screenplay has a hefty role in the comedy, as it reflects the ironic humor its director, Bo Burnham, has been known for in his past comedy performances. The editing of the scenes contrasts the reality of the situation while the characters extol a different message.
Many viewers may conclude that this film is a sort of anti-teenage drama, since it goes against the grain of what traditional teenage dramas have usually portrayed: a more or less fantasy of what many students wished their school social life to be. Audiences will not be confronted by an experience similar to “High School Musical” or “Sixteen Candles.” In a sense, the movie is simultaneously a criticism of its own genre, and additionally more honest, if not the most honest, about the social difficulties of middle-school life.
The movie is not a family film per se, as it is rated R and there are elements that contextualize mature messages relegated to adult films, but holds an advice on life that middle-schoolers need and gives their parents a glimpse of what the reality of the school life can be for them. Families with young children may find less merit, but those with teenagers will get a lot out of it. By the end of the runtime, the unexpected and insightful message of “Eighth Grade” will mesmerize its viewers, but will especially make middle-schoolers and their parents happy.