Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson
Director: Bo Burnham
Running Time: 93 mins
Eighth Grade is an American film about a teenage girl who struggles through the last days of middle school, looking back on her past troubles and preparing for high school as she continues to grow up.
I’ve always been one to quickly dismiss films that focus on the social lives of middle and high schoolers as trivial and shallow affairs. However, every once in a while comes a film that manages to take that rehashed premise, and bring some real depth and drama to the table, and Eighth Grade is without a doubt that very film.
It’s a very poignant piece, with a wonderfully genuine performance from Elsie Fisher that’s matched by a story that tells life at school like it is, with all the trappings of struggling to grow up, as well as everything that comes with being seen as nothing more than ordinary by most of the people around you, but that rather morbid story is turned into a film with a real heart for everybody who’s been through adolescence, and as such makes for a moving and thoroughly enthralling watch.
Above all, Eighth Grade is a film that captures your attention right from the get-go, and holds you fully engrossed right to the end. Part of that is down to the excellent screenplay, which manages to combine the sweeter and lighter sides of middle school life with some of the darker realities of the adult and near-adult world.
While the film’s modern setting may introduce some elements of childhood and adolescence that many won’t have experience – social media playing a larger role in particular – the main facets of growing up are all still there, and the story tells its coming-of-age story in stark and genuine fashion throughout, such that it proves effortlessly relatable for all viewers, and as a result a completely engrossing story to follow.
What’s more is that, while the main themes and dramatic atmosphere of the film may seem a little gloomy, as we see a young girl going through all sorts of crises as she tries hard to put herself out there and grow up, there’s a whole heap of childhood nostalgia, something that really brightens the movie and helps to remind you of the lighter side of life, even when things appear to be going so wrong.
Another plus comes in the form of the lead performance from Elsie Fisher, who is absolutely wonderful from beginning to end. More than anything, it’s the fact that her performance seems so genuine, as she portrays her young character as a girl who has real, deep struggles to fit in with the world that she often feels isn’t quite for her, rather than simply retracting to shallow social fears that often plague worse entries in the genre.
Throughout, there’s so much depth and poignancy to this film that it’s impossible not to be hooked throughout, and in similar fashion to the brilliant The Edge Of Seventeen, Eighth Grade has to be considered among the gold standard for a genre that’s often done so wrong, but can, as proven here, be made with real class.
I was hugely impressed by Eighth Grade all the way through, although if I were to have one issue with the film, it would be the fact that some of its major themes and messages are a little too on the nose. Now, the film is clearly more geared towards giving a positive message to younger viewers than many other films of the genre. However, if you’re watching this from the perspective of having been through the struggles of growing up in young adolescence, some of those points do feel a little blatantly drawn out for you on screen, something that feels a little cheesy at times, and can disrupt the deeper power of the story as a whole.
With that said, Eighth Grade is still a fantastic film. With a story full of depth and drama that far surpasses so many other films in the coming-of-age genre, it’s a riveting and moving watch throughout, furthered by a wonderful lead performance from Elsie Fisher, all of which makes it a real stand-out movie of recent years, which is why I’m giving it an 8.0.