Eighth Grade

Not since Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) has a comedy captured so vividly the agony and the ecstasy—well, OK, it’s all agony—of being a homely, marginalized teenage girl. Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is a chubby, acne-ridden eighth-grader with crooked teeth, no mother, and a loving father (Josh Hamilton) whose gentle jokes land on her like a police baton. Writer-director Bo Burnham inventories all the tortures of middle school, from the timeless (the school band’s atonal rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”) to the modern (Kayla’s awkward attempts to make small talk with a trio of mean girls engrossed in their cell phones). The story is punctuated by Kayla’s self-shot YouTube videos, in which she cheerfully proffers life wisdom without actually having any insights to share; she might be the butt of these segments if not for her sunny resilience and her poignant need to be recognized.