Eighth Grade

As previously mentioned in my review of Edge of Seventeen (2017), the coming of age genre can be predictable and a nice treat simultaneously. Most of these have been primarily focused on the high school shenanigans but none really seemed to have touch the more awkward phase in this area: the younger middle school demographic. Usually many actors cast this these features are 20 or 30 aged who work to pass themselves off as graduating senior students but it would be a challenge for junior high...until now. This brings us to Eighth Grade, a comedy within this aforementioned area that's written and directed by Bo Burnham (the directorial debut of a comedian who made his debut on YouTube in 2006 and has been rising in his career ever since). It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival early this year and has been the talk of the town from its debut (along with being on my anticipated list). The marketing campaign intrigued me by how relatable it appeared to be and it received a strong positive critical reception. It's been out in theaters for a couple of weeks at this point so I decided to catch it while it was still around to see if it's worthy of its acclaim and left it very happy at this touching endearing experience.

Plot: The story follows an eighth grade student who's graduating in one week and is suffering from preteen anxieties as she works on gaining self confidence. What's great about this is how empathetic the main protagonist is where her efforts in attempting to socialize with her fellow peers result in the most awkward and embarrassing exchanges many audience members know all too well. This generation of students here are the modern variety that have been exposed to swear words, sexual activities that are beyond their understanding, some that are trying to act more tough than they are, and their social media usage. In fact, using one of these online platforms in this storyline does a great job in addressing the type of message this is aiming for in how pre-teens mindset would be during a difficult stage in their lives. One great scene to note surrounds a discussion between a group of high schools and our main lead about the difference in the generations. There's an intense uncomfortable scene about 2/3's of the way through in which an advance is made in such a manner that I was cringing in fear with what was going to happen, which is bolstered by the actors performance (if you've already seen this, you know what I'm referring to). The tone is pretty well balanced in humorous lines adding to the comedy with the dramatic weight surrounding the core arc.

Characters: The people to focus on are Kayla (Elsie Fisher) and Mark (Josh Hamilton). Kayla is an eighth grade student with confidence issues whose attempts to be socially confident result in her embarrassment. Elsie is excellent here as her performance is engaging to watch  as she conveys the kind of pain she would feel in those awkward moments. She captures that feeling of blowing the humiliation out of proportion and trying to find the latest trend from her peers in growing up to a level she thinks she wants to reach. Mark is Kayla's single father who's trying to reach out to her and understand the changes she's undergoing. Josh is another highlight to watch out for due to his cautious nature he convey's in his scenes that add some levity and heart (one of his scenes made me tear up near the end). Honorable mentions go to Olivia (Emily Robinson), Gabe (Jake Ryan), Aiden (Lucas Prael), and Riley (Daniel Zolghardi) for what their respective roles and performances added to the viewing experience along with looking like their age group (it should be noted that all of the actors are well cast in that aspect alone).

Overall Consensus: Eighth Grade is an great portrayal of modern preteen anxiety surrounding transitional changes that's bolstered by a strong lead performance, great casting choices, solid writing, amusing comedy, and a heartwarming spirit. ⭑⭑⭑⭑3/4🍿🎟 Runtime: 1 hour 33 minutes R

Reasons to watch it: You like any of the aforementioned actors. You want to see a coming of age aspect from a pre-adolescent perspective. You want to take a break from big budget blockbusters. You are a fan of Bo Burnham's humor (or have been keeping up with him since his early days) and want to him take on directing and writing duties. You don't mind hearing the dirty language from these youngsters. You want to see how much you can relate with the antics here. You don't mind some familiar cliches and plot aspects from within the genre.

Reasons to avoid it: You dislike any of the aforementioned actors. You don't want to see a coming of age aspect from a pre-adolescent perspective. You prefer big budget blockbusters. You aren't a fan of Bo Burnham's humor. You are sensitive hearing the dirty language from these youngsters. You are uncomfortable with preteens being near sexual content or language. You are annoyed some familiar cliches and plot aspects from within the genre.


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