Review: 'Eighth Grade' keeps it real

Bo Burnham's debut film is a masterpiece of adolescent uneasiness

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Elsie Fisher in "Eighth Grade."

Anxiety inducing and rip-your-heart-out honest, "Eighth Grade" is a spot-on portrait of the awkwardness of adolescence. 

In his brave, striking, spectacular writing and directing debut, comedian Bo Burnham empathizes with and exposes the heart of the American teenage girl. He is able to succinctly sum up the pain and heartache of the teenage experience, but he does so in a way that is relatable to everyone who has ever been a teenager while reminding viewers how much they don't ever want to go back to those years. 

Elsie Fisher is a treasure as Kayla Day, who is wrapping up her final week of middle school. She has a page on YouTube where she posts videos about self-confidence that she doesn't have to an audience of no one. She claims no particular social scene, and is visible enough to her classmates only to be voted the quietest student in her grade.

Raised by single father Mark (the great Josh Hamilton), who is as supportive of his daughter as she is horrified by his existence ("be quiet and drive, and don't look weird and sad," she tells him in the car), Kayla takes a stab at fitting in with the cool kids. They can barely look up from their phones long enough to notice her standing in front of them. 

Burnham uses over-exaggerated music cues to heighten the stress of the mundane events that mean everything to a teenager; a pool party becomes a playground of panic for Kayla, and the audience.  

But Burnham has the restraint, and the soul, to not twist the knife the way some filmmakers would. He comes from a place of compassion, and in Fisher he finds an actress to make his film sing. "Eighth Grade" aces the test.

(313) 222-2284



'Eighth Grade' 


Rated R for language and some sexual material

Running time: 94 minutes