Eighth Grade (2018): SIFF Review

Eighth Grade (2018)

I’ve never had more fun at a film festival than at the adorable, hilarious, explorative Q&A following Bo Burnham’s directorial debut Eighth Grade. The big-brother friendship he has with the film’s lead Elsie Fisher proves why this is a tremendous debut from a comedian who had far more to say.  Centered on the last week of eighth grade for Kayla, a shy teen trying to break out of her shell while she’s in her transition to high school. Allowing a glimpse into a self-aware but self-conscious young woman, Burnham explored the hellmouth that is middle school and the blind-leading-the-blind digital lives of modern teens.


Elsie Fisher is glorious in Eighth Grade.  She’s voiced Agnes in the Despicable Me movies and had a slew of role, but entering the age of teenager years as an actor who is not 18-35 playing a teenager, she was ready to give up on acting for now.  With Burnham’s treasure of a screenplay, all the awkwardness and confidence facades, her first lead role is a stellar example of an actress portraying layers with ease.  Her days are filled with loneliness, but her YouTube channel, devoid of views, grants the aspirational vision of the Kayla she wants to become. Her relationship with her father (Josh Hamilton) is distant, even as dad is firing grappling hooks to keep his daughter close.  As dorky dad tries to connect with a daughter who slips into her social media black holes (scored by Enya’s “Sail Away” was priceless), Kayla drowns him out with distraction. The only was Kayla opens up is the promise of change. Stuck in a bubble, she branches out when she can.  A shy girl tries to break out of her shell, and each bit of effort weighs on Fisher’s performance.


Burnham’s comedy does not overwhelm the feature.  Small bits are filled with his humor, but it’s a supporting player to a cultural dissection of teens in puberty hell.  Middle school is a miserable time, and our modern lives are filled with expectations of popularity and physical attraction that have gone viral since Burnham’s and my youth (he’s two years younger than me). There’s a timeless miserableness to adolescence, and even to those under eighteen, these couple of years at the beginning of puberty greatly separate those within a four year age difference.  Discussing the age when Kayla got SnapChat, a junior in high school questions the similarities between someone given that potentially scandalous app in elementary school to someone at least within the realm of adult thought when they think something is temporary. “Did you send nudes,” their female friend, FEMINIST necklace around her neck, and where of course Kayla negates, that possibility was there.  Some evolving sensibilities on sex and self leave this as one of the most interesting movies of the year, and so far, this is certainly the most realized debut of 2018. It arrives in mid-July in Seattle, and I’m excited to see it again, but if you can see it with Burnham and Fisher reminiscing after, it’ll be the best ticket in town.


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