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Review: Eighth Grade

Eighth Grade
07.13.2018
9 10

PLOT: A shy middle school student tries to make it through her final week before she moves on to high school.

REVIEW: How well you know middle school student Kayla would depend on exactly where you know her from. If you look at her Instagram and Snapchat page, or her many self help YouTube videos, you’d think she was a mostly happy girl. She may struggle, but clearly she has it together. Of course, if you really knew Kayla, you’d know she doesn’t say a word in class and hides herself away from the world as much as she can. Welcome to EIGHTH GRADE. Before stepping into this fantastic new film, I had no idea who writer and director Bo Burnham was. However, if you watch his videos on YouTube, he seems like the complete opposite of his protagonist. That may be the point, this may very well be a place he knows and wanted to share to an audience for his feature film directorial debut. I for one am happy he did.

eighth grade bo burnham elsie fisher josh hamilton emily robinson 2018

Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is facing her last week of middle school. She spends most of her time listening to music, and making fun posts on her varied social media accounts. One of her favorite things to do is post inspirational self-help videos on YouTube. Yet in real life, Kayla is a loner who spends her time locked away in her room with her computer and her iPhone. She makes desperate but failed attempts to make friends at school, which only dissuade her even more. And yet the one person who does care, her father Mark (Josh Hamilton), she continually pushes away. All the while she is facing the prospect of going to high school without friends or anybody else that she can really talk to. Lucky for her, there are a one or two good people out there that may just give her the friendship she so desperately longs for.

I loved this little movie. Over the past few years we’ve seen some truly remarkable teen flicks including LADYBIRD, one that received a whole lot of attention at the Academy Awards last year. Yet EIGHTH GRADE falls somewhere between Todd Solandz remarkable WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE and the excellent THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN with Hailee Steinfeld. This latest exploration of teen life may be one of the most realistic young adult story that I’ve seen. From the father/daughter relationship to the modern obsession with selfies, this is an inspired portrayal of a teenage girl that doesn't quite fit in to societies norm. It sucks for anybody, but at that age it certainly can be a lonely and heartbreaking journey.

eighth grade bo burnham elsie fisher josh hamilton emily robinson 2018

We first meet Kayla as the awkward yet seemingly together young girl posting one of her many videos. We soon see that they are just words, ones that she cannot commit to herself. Elsie Fisher is a revelation as Kayla. Elsie perfectly earns the audiences sympathy. One of the reasons for that is we see her at her best and her worst, and the actress is completely open to both. While the real Elsie is likely not as guarded as the girl she portrays, nothing about her performance feels false or exaggerated. She is perfect as a girl desperate to find someone to care about her.

Burnham appears to understands the nature of middle school and just how challenging it can be. Whether it is that horrible pool party where you feel like you stand out like a sore thumb, or you are walking through the halls feeling like a ghost, he gets it. He also understands the appeal of social media for teens, and how they can live out sort of in a fantasy world. This is true for many people, not only teenagers, but for some it can be a constant reminder of how alone they really are. Yet in all this, Burnham is able to tell a story that is laugh out loud funny, sweet and very entertaining. While the mix of comedy and drama sometimes doesn’t quite work, it is a very rare occurrence. And yes, the unfortunate and scary way sex sometimes comes into play for girls Kayla’s age is dealt with in an all too realistic way.

The cast Bo Burnham has collected is solid, but we only get to know a few characters considering Kayla rarely lets others into her life. Josh Hamilton is superb as her father who tries desperately to connect with his little girl - there is a scene here that darn near equals the stunning Michael Stuhlbarg scene in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. Emily Robinson is a light in the darkness as Olvia, a cool high school student who becomes a mentor for young Kayla. And they say that there is someone for everyone? Here, that someone is Gabe (Jake Ryan). Ryan is nearly equal to Kayla when it comes to the awkward teen, and he is one of the bright spots in a movie filled with many of them.

bo burnham eighth grade elise fisher josh hamilton emily robinson 2018

To deal with the many issues that school age children face, Bo Burnham has done a fantastic job. By exploring the very realistic stuggles Kayla goes through, he makes a very honest portrait of how damn difficult it can be to find your way through middle school. If anything, he tries to do a bit too much, and occasionally glosses over something that he could have explored more in-depth. However, this is Kayla’s story. We witness growing up through her eyes, and whether you are school age, or their parent, you’ll find a suprisingly deep connection to this lovely film.

EIGHTH GRADE is a sublime debut for Burnham. The script is truthful and heartfelt, and his lead actress is a real find. There is something special about being able to tell a story like this without delving into oversimplifying what it is like to be a teen. It can be complicated and scary, and this is about as realistic as it gets. If you are older and wonder why teenagers and young adults spend so much time on social media, this may be a clue for a good number of them. Growing up isn’t always fun, it is frustrating and it can be utterly painful. Even if you aren’t a parent or in school, I highly recommend this. However, if you are either, this is an absolute must watch.

Source: JoBlo.com

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