Kayla Day is a 13 year old girl who has made it to the final week of middle school with no friends, very little social skills and an incredible amount of shyness. However, the last week of middle school is unlike anything she’s faced before, is she ready for such a drastic change in her life?
The film starts off brilliantly, first we’re greeted by Kasey recording a positive YouTube video for kids her own age to improve or fit in more. Then the stark contrast is when she closes her laptop and the audience is shown that she’s living a lie. She isn’t popular, she doesn’t have friends, she has no confidence and the film doesn’t hold back some excruciating details.
The biggest compliment towards the film is that it all felt so raw and real, not a single moment that was out of the realm of possibility, not one line of dialogue that breaks the immersion. It’s drenched in fantastic, emotional gut punches that rock you. A big part of making it all feel so real is that the kids were played by kids that age, which while not all of them were great actors. That didn’t matter at all as the dialogue, the story, even little things like teachers trying to be cool by using popular language, just entrenches you in this world, and while you’re there you better buckle up because Kasey is facing high school and getting older, with all the added responsibilities that come with that.
There’s a certain scene in the film that as soon as it started to happen, you could tell what was going to happen, it’s absolutely heart-wrenching, genuinely one of the most unpleasant scenes in films for quite some time. Mercifully it doesn’t last too long, but it does leave you with almost shell shock in that you’re looking at characters more uneasily.
None of that would be possible if not for Elsie Fisher, who plays Kayla. She is perfect throughout the film and even showed the adult actors up, she was so natural and relatable in the role, and had a real connection with the audience. Josh Hamilton also deserves high praise as Kayla’s father, Mark. His character was written a little unevenly, he’s given some brilliant moments, but then in other scenes he’s given cringey or very formulaic dialogue.
The film is shot really well, it looks great and really helped set the scene. There were no fancy editing, no camera tricks, just basic but in the best way possible as that is what the film needed. One scene in particular when Kayla rushes upstairs after coming home and the camera just sits and let’s the scene unfurl is powerful.
Also, the decision to have romantic music play every time Kayla sees a boy she likes and have it hard cut to reality is absolutely brilliant and always funny.
Eighth Grade is a slow walk through a week in Kayla’s life, at times nothing seems to happen, then everything happens. Can’t help but feel that if you’re an American viewer, you’d get much more out of it than other nationalities. Not that if you aren’t American you won’t enjoy the film, it just feels very American.