Directed by Bo Burnham
Starring – Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson
The Plot – Thirteen-year-old Kayla (Fisher) endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school; the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year before she begins high school.
Rated R for adult language and some sexual material
– ‘Eighth Grade’ feels like an authentic experience that goes far beyond being an entertaining piece of cinema. This movie immersed me right away to the very feelings of isolation and awkwardness that plague early adolescents, and lifted some of those repressed memories from my own developing childhood that were stored in the back of my psyche. Burnham never relents in his documentation for this important time, placing it ideally right in the final steps of middle school, before the change takes full course in high school, where you can re-create yourself. That idea of metamorphosis surrounds this film, and leaves our youthful protagonist drowning in this sea of change that feels laps ahead of her.
– My biggest respect to this first time Youtube star-turned-director, is what he manages to accomplish in terms of atmosphere, that constantly shapes differently throughout similar set-ups. Burnham doesn’t turn away from those down-time moments of boredom where a kid is shown playing with their face, or a random voice yells something to throw a teacher off. Instead Bo frames them to feed more sternly into that authenticity of environment that I mentioned earlier. What is so brilliant about this take is that it establishes a layer of relativity to Kayla’s own experiences with social anxiety, forcing us to see things in the same way that she does without sacrificing storytelling elements.
– The performances couldn’t be better, most notably from Fisher and Hamilton, who live and breathe these vital roles. Fisher’s timid posture speaks volumes to what she’s feeling inside, but it’s the way her facial expression reads and how they study and react to a room that truly captures this lamb being led to slaughter. Hamilton as well channels the sometimes intruding parent, who just seeks answers without trying to diminish the cool factor in how his daughter views him. When these two are together on-screen, it’s pure magic, especially that of a long-winded exchange in the closing moments that really tugs at your heart strings. Aside from these two, I also greatly credit the supporting cast around, as every child actor looks and feels synthetic to that of the role they are supposed to be playing. This is nothing like other movies who cast 18 year olds models to play 13, this is the real deal. As to where aspects like facial acne and bodily scars would be taken out of a typical sterilized Hollywood rendering, Burnham embraces the struggles of teenage growth, giving a feeling at times of a documentary instead of a picture with a script.
– Much of the musical score by Anna Meredith in the film also strikes a similar chord in mirroring the ever-changing atmosphere that Kayla partakes in. Sometimes it is loud and abrasive to commute Kayla’s dread, and other times it can be tender and smooth when she sees a certain boy she has a crush on. Even more beneficial and cerebral is how it only pops up when Kayla is full steam into a situation that has previously been playing out, serving the film as more of an extra emphasis factor instead of something that caters to the presentational benefit of the film. Enya’s “Sail Away” is the only familiar song played in the film, and even its gentle strokes balance Kayla’s escapism into the internet perfectly, in an almost hypntozing sense.
– As for the self-help Youtube element itself, Kayla disappears in this recorded personality that differs so far from who she is in her own real life. This gives the subplot an intentionally hypocritical, yet therapeutic feeling, in that all of this advice she dishes out is really more for her than it is her sparse social media following. She knows how fake her demeanor comes across on-screen, yet can’t escape this overwhelming demand from within to conform to what society wants her to be, creating this battle for struggle with the real Kayla lying somewhere in between. I love my flawed protagonists, and this one is the very definition of that angle.
– This film is time-stamped to this particular generation, most notably in the measures that adults take in trying to relate to kids, with all of their “cool lingo” like slang and dabbing, but its intended humor succeeds despite the fact that Burnham was nowhere close to growing up in today’s scholastic landscape. His greatest ability as a screenwriter is his handle on the material, and how it constantly feels like he wrote this while shadowing an actual middle school. It’s second to none in terms of its genuineness, and highlights Burnham as a major force to be reckoned with in the Hollywood landscape.
– When you speak of important movies that should be shown to our youths, ‘Eighth Grade’ is certainly among the best and most important in this regards. Its message is easily transmitted without feeling spoon-fed or forced, and it’s one that isn’t afraid to show the decay of interaction because of dependency upon social media. Like our very kids growing up in 2018, there is advancement, yet great warning that comes with great technology, and as a screenwriter Burnham perfectly expedites this by comparing this delve with the ages-old wish of wanting to be popular, marrying the two in a frought ceremony that only further advances and enhances the inevitable confrontation that Kayla is faced with, and who better than one of Youtube’s own (Burnham) in capturing that pressure.
– While I could be wrong, ‘Eighth Grade’ feels like the first movie that takes a touchy subject such as the struggles of junior high, and orchestrates it in such a way that is entirely serious regardless of the sometimes humorous experiences. Because of this mature approach, it stands out from plots similar to this in approach, that market itself as the very same comedy that diminishes the importance of what it’s documenting. ‘Eighth Grade’ instead feels comfortable in what it is, and never backs down in putting the moment first.
– While I don’t fully understand why this film is rated-R, I support that stamping because it will require adults and kids to see it together.
– A24 always has problems ending their film, and unfortunately ‘Eighth Grade’ continues this direction. I won’t say the ending was entirely unsatisfying to me, but it feels every bit as unresolved as it does unaddressed. One could interpret this as adolescence more times than not as feeling unsatisfying, but there’s a subplot involving Kayla in a car that never gets addressed any further. It’s an important scene because it underlines the issues of truth to our youth, but its lack of weight or consequence feels irresponsible in its teaching. The rare blunder that I had for this otherwise outstanding film.