In Eighth Grade when single parent Mark (Josh Hamilton) tells his daughter Kayla (Elsie Fisher) how proud he is to have her as a daughter and what a privilege it is to have him watch her grow up, not a single parent in the audience would voice any dissent. Kayla may not be the perfect daughter but she is the perfectly awkward daughter, the kind of insecure but level headed child with a moral compass that will always find true north in a wilderness of indecision and good and bad choices— the kind of child that lets a parent breathe a sigh of relief because she spares them from the angst of correction.
Bo Burnham, in his first feature effort, has written and directed the perfect John Hughes movie intended for parents. If you remove the freckles from Molly Ringwald, keep the acne and add twice the talent, you’ll get close to what Elsie Fisher has achieved here. It is the most honest and sincere teen performance seen in a long time, and possibly the best.
Burnham has created a story where the technology of being a teen (smart phones, instagram, snapchat, you tube videos) exactly matches the experience and comments on it in a poignant and insightful way. Kayla’s videos are not just a framing device, but propel the story in a way that keeps it thematically on track. There confidence and wisdom contrast with her actual awkwardness and naïveté. Her maturity comes when she has the confidence and wisdom to put the technology down and truly be herself.
JohnHughes would have been proud.