Movie review: 'Eighth Grade'

Brad Keefe

There are countless movies featuring funny, nostalgic looks at childhood and high school. There's a reason so few look at eighth grade.

Who really wants to relive those in-between years? The beginnings of independence that we navigate in high school come with their share of pitfalls, but also a newfound sense of self. And we appreciate the carefree days of childhood more in retrospect.

But eighth grade represents being neither here nor there. For many people, it can represent peak awkwardness.

And all of that awkwardness is on glorious display in comedian Bo Burnham's “Eighth Grade,” a comedy that captures adolescence in this moment in time, yet remains universal.

When we first meet Kayla (Elsie Fisher in a true breakout role), she's confidently recording the latest video on her YouTube channel, where she offers advice on friendship, popularity and being yourself. She signs off each video with a comically aspirational tagline of simply, “Gucci!”

Her videos' low viewer count reveals that Kayla, like most people on the internet, is projecting the life she wants rather than the one she has. She's essentially putting a Snapchat filter on her whole existence.

It's the last week of eighth grade, and Kayla is determined to navigate it. She doesn't have close friends. Like most people her age, she longs for popularity. She's also crushing on one of the most popular boys in school.

At home, she interacts more with her phone than with her single dad (Josh Hamilton), and seeing the world through Instagram just makes her feel even more alone.

My first thought upon seeing “Eighth Grade” was, “Wow, I'm glad I'm not in eighth grade today.”

“Eighth Grade” is a comedy at heart, but it's also a kind of horror movie, capturing the cringe-worthy essence of what it feels like to be that age. (Unless you were popular, or whatever. If so, this movie's probably not for you.)

Burnham creates a film so low-key it stays relatable. These vignettes are pretty simple: a pool party, a trip to the mall. But it contains the kind of drama that feels world-ending when you're that age.

This is part of the sweet charm of “Eighth Grade,” even if it means it doesn't have as much narrative arc as it could. It lives in those small moments that feel big.

And it comes to life thanks to a brilliant performance by the young Fisher. She's an eighth grader in the age of social media, but she captures something so universal.

She makes “Eighth Grade” worth reliving.

“Eighth Grade”

Opens Friday

4 stars out of 5