The American middle school experience is a tried and tested subject for film. Much of this is owed to the fact that it has the reputation for being the flaming purgatory of the US educational system. Cinema-goers know this already. Many of them will have been through this onerous three-year period or suffered through a similar journey. Bo Burnam’s Eighth Grade offers them something approaching closure.
Kayla is coming to the end of her final academic year. She is dealing with crushes, the popular girls and a busy social media existence. The filmmaker makes her reality painfully relatable, but is not afraid to address the darker side of the protagonist’s struggle, drawing a line between the desirable and unacceptable. Still, Kayla’s growing pains also make for a stream of consistent giggles that is both silly and thoughtful. You’d be forgiven for forgetting that this is Burnam’s debut as a director; the feature is intelligent and self-assured.
In a sense, this is an underdog story, and it wouldn’t work without the utterly lovable Elsie Fisher in the lead role. As the character rushes through adolescence, you can’t help but root for her. The teen is full of affection and well-wishing, and one hopes that girls and boys her age will take after her. The real treat in this movie, however, is Jake Ryan as Gabe. He brings a ton of laughs to the mix with a magnetic sweetness – a born comedian who deserves his own spinoff.
Many films like this try to put across the need to accept the imperfections of this time in your life and breathe through them – relaying the message that everything is going to be okay. Few are able to make you actually believe it. Eighth Grade is a lovely, heartwarming feature that offers comfort, compassion and a never-ending stream of reminiscent smiles.
Eighth Grade does not have a UK release date yet.
Watch the trailer for Eighth Grade here: