'Eighth Grade': a he-said-she-said film review

Elsie Fisher stars as Kayla Day in the movie "Eighth Grade."

Elsie Fisher stars as Kayla Day in the movie "Eighth Grade."

By Marilyn and Tom Jozwik

Published July 31, 2018

Writer-director Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade,” Elsie Fisher plays Kayla Day, a soon-to-be high schooler who displays all the self-consciousness—sometimes humorous, more often poignant—of a typical 13-year-old.

HE: “Eighth Grade” was well-acted, with a simple but captivating enough story line and a worthwhile message. Its R rating presumably was for a little language and a sex education motif that got a little gamy. But it was completely free of nudity and didn’t devolve (when it easily could have) into sex scenes.

SHE: I found “Eighth Grade” to be quite refreshing in its portrayal of teens. Kayla, the protagonist, could easily have become a caricature, but instead becomes actually someone to be admired.

HE: I, as a father, noted that Kayla was nice to everybody in the movie except her dad; she was often snotty to him.

SHE: I would just call it more taciturn. I don’t think she was being disrespectful so much as uncommunicative, which is often the case with this age group. I really liked how the dad (Josh Hamilton) didn’t take her snubs personally, but rather took a lighthearted approach. During a dinner when he’s trying to talk to her with her headphones on, he playfully tosses food at her to get her attention.

HE: As I said, a well-acted movie, and these two, Hamilton and Fisher, had by far the biggest roles. I’m wondering about Fisher’s—Kayla’s—mother. Late in the movie, the dad refers to her having “left us” when the girl was a mere infant. You think “left us” was a euphemism for “died”?

SHE: That wasn’t made clear, yes. A death, as opposed to a divorce, makes a lot of difference to what motivates a character. Perhaps Kayla’s homemade self-improvement videos, which are posted online, are a way for her to cope with and replace the guidance of the maternal figure she’s missing. The videos, by the way, are delightfully done and make Kayla an appealing and empathetic character.

HE: The actress Fisher is at her most natural in those video scenes, very realistic. In fact, realism is very much a strong point of the film as a whole, an aspect I definitely appreciated.

SHE: The film certainly pointed out how much time teenagers spend on their devices—laptops, phones and so forth—and how dangerous they can be, but also in Kayla’s case how her videos and the channel she created helped her cope with her adolescence and possibly the loss of her mother.

HE: She also, near the end, has connected with a nerdy but nice and thoughtful boyfriend, Gabe (Jake Ryan), to help her cope. They have a couple of enjoyable-to-watch scenes together and I wish they’d had more. I’ve found myself wondering what might’ve happened with Gabe/Kayla had the movie included more than a few nebulous moments representing high school.

SHE: Yes, I agree. Gabe certainly was a better match than the eighth-grade heartthrob (Luke Prael) she threw herself at. The good thing is, Kayla seems to learn from her mistakes and begins to feel comfortable in her own skin. I liked her portrayal, as well as those of some of the other teens in the movie. I also liked the way director Burnham inserted music in a very obvious manner that reflected the angst Kayla was feeling in various awkward teen situations.

HE: My grade for “Eighth Grade” would be a solid B.

SHE: I’d go with the same. Not sure if this is going to have a wide audience as it may not resonate with adults, and teens might find Kayla likable but boring since she doesn’t have any superpowers, isn't evil, gorgeous, rich or nerdy. She's just a middle-class kid trying to navigate adolescence.

"Eighth Grade" is rated R.