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“Eighth Grade” is an impressive filmmaking debut for Bo Burnham

It seems safe to assume that no one was expecting this out of comedian and actor turned filmmaker Bo Burnham. That’s nothing against him. It merely means that his first effort with crafting cinema is just that good. This week, Burnham makes his directing and writing debut with Eighth Grade, a coming of age story that should hit very close to home. This film works in a tremendously strong way. Depicting this seminal time in a teenager’s life is something many would struggle with. Not him, though. Burnham is more than up to the challenge, with the results speaking for themselves. This is something special.

The movie, unsurprisingly, is about an eighth grader. Soon to be High Schooler Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is just trying to survive the end of her Middle School experience, one that has been a disaster almost from the start. Her dad Mark (Josh Hamilton) still sees her as the happy youngster she used to be, but she’s invisible to almost everyone else. As a number of final week events begin to help her grow, we watch as she tries to tackle life in a way that won’t lead to even more hardships. It alternates between heartbreaking, heartwarming, and deeply awkward. Burnham writes and directs, while the rest of the cast includes Greg Crowe, Imani Lewis, Catherine Oliviere, Luke Prael, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Missy Yager, and Daniel Zolghadri. The score is by Anna Meredith, while Andrew Wehde handles the cinematography. They’re all in support of Burnham and Fisher, the two main discoveries here.

This is a realistic flick in all the right ways. From the performance of young Fisher to the way Burnham crafts the details, it’s just so real. In fact, it could even be raw for some in the audience. Throw in a winning dad turn by Hamilton and there’s a trifecta of top notch work to latch on to. Burnham’s script is so on point. Fisher’s performance is impeccable. Hamilton’s nice guy dad will make your heart grow three sizes. Any one of these factors would make for a recommendation worthy movie. All three? Well, that makes for a rather memorable experience. Burnham’s impressive debut certainly makes whatever he opts to do next something to look out for.

Some have speculated that Eighth Grade could be an under the radar awards contender. I think that’s a long shot, but the independent precursors could take a shine to it. Notably, Burnham and Fisher might do well with Breakthrough categories. Still, A24 certainly could launch an Oscar campaign, making efforts in Best Picture, Best Director (for Burnham), Best Actress (for Fisher), Best Supporting Actor (for Hamilton), and Best Original Screenplay (also for Burnham). Essentially, it would be the Lady Bird strategy, just one year later. The likelihood of it working is low, but it can’t hurt to try anyway. If nothing else, it’ll be a different sort of Academy Award hopeful. Who knows, maybe they’ll even surprise?

Starting on Friday, audiences can transport themselves back to Middle School when Eighth Grade hits theaters. Burnham fans will be in for a wonderful surprise, as he crafts something with the confidence of a veteran auteur. This is the sort of film that hits close to home, almost no matter who you are. See it for the story. See it for Burham’s debut. See it for Fisher’s introduction to the world. Just see it. The movie is so well done, it’ll undoubtedly stay with you. A24 has another winner on their hands, again proving why they’re among the best in the business at what they do. See the flick and you’ll immediately understand what so many are raving about…

Be sure to check out Eighth Grade, opening in theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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