Beautifully awkward in Eighth Grade
The directorial debut of 27-year-old American comedian/musician Bo Burnham is a hilariously realistic coming-of-age tale, with an impressive performance from Elsie Fisher
Social awkwardness is nothing new for millennials, who tend to grow up lacking real-world social skills. With an increase of technological use, and the rise of smartphones and social media, each day these kids seem to have less and less face-to-face interaction, instead hiding behind their screens.
Same thing goes for Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher), a 13-year-old eighth-grader and the main character in the new teen drama film Eighth Grade, who struggles to make it through her last week of middle school before beginning a new chapter in high school.
Like many other unpopular kids at school, Kayla is an introverted and very shy girl who's pretending to be confident. She becomes a YouTuber posting life-advice videos on her channel on how to be yourself or gaining self-confidence -- something she very much struggles with in real life.
As her mother left when she was a child, Kayla's been living with her geeky father Mark (Josh Hamilton), who isn't much of a role model, and who doesn't know how to handle his confusing teenage daughter.
It is very common to see her walking or eating by herself at school. Kayla is a loner who struggles to connect with people around her.
But in her final days of middle school, she's determined to make progress at trying to befriend some of the more popular girls, who always look down on her, or the boy she admires, before the year is over.
Sahamongkol Film International
Despite being his film-directorial debut, Bo Burnham does a wonderful job at finding a uniquely new way to tell a simple story that is crafty and meaningful. Much of Eighth Grade plays out more like a documentary than a standard coming-of-age movie.
It's almost like a collection of those weird situations from school years that are relatable to everyone, easily reminding us, keenly, of every single awkward interaction in your early teens.
There's a focus on the difficulties Kayla encounters -- from an awkward pool party to an argument with her father, or even an uncomfortable scene where she encounters sexual harassment, but the director avoids an excess of cruelty. Instead, he has managed to address all these serious subjects in a humorous way, yet authentically and honestly enough to make you feel like you are there, experiencing things as Kayla does.
At one point there's the scene where Kayla successfully befriends an older girl at school. She drops her phone due to excitement at being invited to come hang out at a mall by her new friend, and you can't help but find yourself excited too, and happy for her.
Elsie Fisher is definitely a rising star, effectively carrying this offbeat slice of life with her awkward and relatable charm. And in addition to Fisher, we get great supporting performances from the likes of Josh Hamilton as her father, as well as from other teen actors who are well drawn in their interpretations of adolescence.
Another great highlight is the music, entirely done by Anna Meredith, the Scottish composer. Her fun, bold, synthesiser-based electronic compositions play an important role in the movie, brightening the characters' thoughts and emotions, adding humour to some of the serious moments in the film.
Eighth Grade is absolutely an insightful study of the current generation of teenagers, touching on ideas of insecurity, hormones, fitting in, and everything in between. A kind of film you'll recommend your friends see.