While there are a number of strong coming-of-age movies for boys (Stand by Me, among others), there haven’t been as many films for girls. Writer-director Bo Burham’s Eighth Grade is a charming addition to the genre with a female protagonist.
The excellent Elsie Fisher plays Kayla, an introverted girl finishing eighth grade. She makes self-help videos on social media that almost no one watches and struggles to make friends at school, winning the award for “Most Quiet.” She has an awkward, but well-meaning single dad (Josh Hamilton).
There isn’t much in the way of plot in Eighth Grade, but Burnham’s script and Fisher’s performance are both full of endearing details. The film is populated by children who actually seem to be the age of the characters they are playing, and they feel awkward in the way real middle schoolers are. It successfully captures the frustration of wanting to connect with other people your age, but not knowing how to do it. Fisher manages to come across as both sad and hopeful, simultaneously. Hamilton is convincing as he tries to be involved in his daughter’s life without going over the top.
Eighth Grade, like Stand by Me, is rated R, but is not a movie that parents need to shield their middle schoolers from. It’s R-rated because middle schoolers say R-rated things. There are a few F-bombs, a joke about masturbation, and a scene where Fisher looks up what a blow job means on the Internet.