“Eighth Grade”: An Eerily Accurate Flashback to Early Adolescence

Having won multiple film festival awards and with a whopping 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, how well does Bo Burnham’s directorial debut capture the life of a modern day middle schooler?


Jason Nasser-Marsh, Staff Reporter

Teen movies are nothing new. For the past 30 years, classics like “The Breakfast Club,” “Mean Girls,” and “High School Musical”  have been loved and cherished by audiences of all ages. While these stories explore a range of teenage trials and tribulations, a key period of every teenager’s life has been largely ignored by Hollywood: middle school.

“Eighth Grade” chronicles the last week of 8th grade for 13 year old Kayla. Played by Elsie Fisher, Kayla is a quiet but insightful girl who makes videos on her desolate YouTube channel, where she gives advice on a variety of issues that every middle schooler faces. Her final week of middle school is packed with an array of awkward obstacles that she must conquer before she can move on to high school, the next stage in her life.

“Eighth Grade” is the passion project of long time musical comic Bo Burnham, who wrote and directed the film. While adolescence is far from a new topic for Burnham, whose song High School Party helped launch his career, the writer and director tackles this story with the goal of authentically portraying how eighth grade actually feels for kids today. As evidenced by this video of eighth graders reacting to the movie, he seems to have succeeded.

“We tend to remember that time as so stress free and worry free like, ‘I wish I was in the eighth grade, I had no stress back then,’” Burnham said while being interviewed by Jimmy Kimmel about the film. “You did, you just had no freedom or money and you had stress.” Burnham goes on to explain, “It’s actual eighth graders. We cast real kids, and most of the kids that are in the movie were kids from that school [where the movie was filmed.]”

Much of the film’s praise has been attributed to the performance of breakout star Elsie Fisher. Fisher starred in both Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 as Agnes, but this is her first major role and hopefully the springboard for a long career. According to Burnham, “Every kid who came in [to audition] played it like a confident kid pretending to be shy, but she played it like a shy kid pretending to be confident.”

It is for this reason that the film truly succeeds; Fisher’s approach to the character simply feels real. Throughout the film, she makes multiple videos discussing what it means “To Be Confident” or “How to Be Yourself.” But in reality, she struggles with both these things. Her videos are not accurate to how she is in real life. For this reason, her videos deepen her character while also providing extremely relevant commentary on social media culture and how superficial it can be.

“Eighth Grade” generally strays away from traditional teen movie tropes and “dramatic movie moments.” The popular kids don’t dedicate their time to constantly harass Kayla; they simply ignore her. Kayla doesn’t have a dramatic first kiss scene with the boy she has a crush on; instead, she awkwardly discusses her fake collection of “dirty photos.” We, as the audience, experience a week in her life and all the discomfort that comes with it. This straightforward approach provides levels of tension that you would expect in an excellent horror movie, especially in one extremely uncomfortable scene involving Kayla in a car with a high school senior.

Fortunately, “Eighth Grade” doesn’t end with an inspiring musical number telling all middle schoolers how to be rid of cringe-worthy situations, but instead concludes on a more down-to-earth and hopeful note. Throughout the film, Kayla goes through a storm of terribly uncomfortable and embarrassing situations, and rather than finding the key to being more confident or outgoing, Kayla learns that she can navigate her own ongoing anxiety even if she can’t solve her problems right away.

“Eighth Grade” is a competently made film that avoids teen movie tropes and utilizes social media to provide a unique perspective on middle school today. If you want to reflect on your eighth grade experience, awkward moments and all, this movie provides an interesting and realistic view on the experiences of a middle schooler.

“Eighth Grade” is still in select theaters and will come to streaming services September 25th.