What’s it like to be an eighth grader in 2018? For starters social media and the internet play a huge part in your life. Other tribulations of eighth grade haven’t changed all that much; including unrequited crushes, hating your body, struggling to be popular and just simply knowing who you are. Elsie Fisher plays Kayla Day a thirteen year old growing up in upstate New York; it’s the last week of middle school before she enters the dangers of 9th grade in high school. Fisher, although 15, already has an impressive resume as an actress; she’s practically a veteran. Kayla has a vlog (video blog) where she gives advice to other teenagers, about confidence, meeting new people, being true to yourself and managing anxiety and angst. Kayla understands the last two topics in spades.
Fisher is amazing, an open, awkward canvas of emotion and insecurity. She is a marvel to watch, and it is a totally credible, heartfelt performance. Kudos to the Golden Globes for recognizing this and nominating her for best actress in a comedy film, at such a young age. Eighth Grade has received a lot of praise for its authenticity and it certainly illuminates the eighth grade experience vividly. Much of it feels improvised including Kayla’s charming vlogs. However sometimes it feels like the film is a set of random scenes, that could be unscrambled and arranged in a different order and probably have the same effect. The build to Kayla’s graduation, through high school student shadowing, dodging older boy’s passes and confronting the snooty mean girls isn’t exactly urgent or linear, still these scenes are involving.
Eighth Grade’s slacked plotting seems to be a trend in independent films; shunning dramatic structure in exchange for realness and tension derived from improvisation. This entire film feels improvised, especially the glorious dinner date scene near the end between Kayla and Gabe- a hysterical Jake Ryan. It is so charming, there should be a new word for charming. However, I wonder if filmmakers have to sacrifice plot and story structure when they decide it has to feel real.
The film has received a lot of Kudos even a Writer’s Guild Nomination for the script, which is interesting because it feels like the entire thing was improvised and not written at all. True it is a good movie, but if Elsie Fisher weren’t playing Kayla I don’t think it would be nearly as enjoyable or interesting-she is a revelation.