Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade perfectly captures the Snapchat-driven Instagram like seeking identity crisis that is being an adolescent.
The film’s attention to detail was incredibly staggering and brought levels of authenticity commonly found in any number of documentaries. What unfolds on screen may be shocking, but relatable to parents with kids in either middle or high school, but for most, it’s a heartbreaking look at the pressures and temptations facing these children.
The film centers around the last week of eighth grade for Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) and her frantic realization that she hadn’t achieved all she’d hoped for in middle school. At the beginning, Kayla had set out to be social and make plenty of new friends while still keeping her grades up. Instead, she never set out to do those things to make new friends and was rather quiet thus causing her classmates to award her the superlative “Most Quiet.”
Rather than seek to open up more in high school, she proceeds to act differently in the hopes of gaining acceptance among her peers. She tries socializing with the two most popular girls in school even though they are beyond rude towards her. Kayla starts being forward with a guy in her class, so maybe she can finally have a boyfriend. In the midst of this continuous compromising, her father, played by Josh Hamilton, tries being the calm, relatable single parent rather than just being her father which comes across as annoying.
Writer/director Bo Burnham’s narrative is teeming with heart and encapsulates those turbulent transitional years. One of the numerous shining moments in Eighth Grade was how Burham framed the father as feeling so helpless at times while Kayla goes through this roller coaster of emotions we all know as growing up. Her father’s use of an app to keep track of everything which irritated Kayla was a nice touch as well.
There were also plenty of awkward moments which typify those middle school years. Perhaps my favorite was how she was practicing making out on her hand while looking at a picture of the class jerk she had a crush on only to be walked in on by her dad. An awkward moment for sure, which they made even better by altering their speech pattern, pausing every other word.
There were also some very poignant moments which stood out as well. Kayla at one point asks her father if he thinks that she’s a disappointment and his answer was something you’d wish every dad would say to their daughters. Burnham’s narrative for Eighth Grade embodies the adolescent experience for both parents and their children.
The pacing in the film was excellent. Andrew Wehde’s cinematography was incredibly jarring and up close which enhanced the tone of the piece. By keeping the shots tight on Kayla all of her imperfections and emotions were on full display. Every element of this film just seamlessly was woven in with one another creating a fully realized final product.
Elise Fisher’s portrayal was a delicious combination of angst, envy, doubt, joy, and fear channeled into a character who longed for a direction and acceptance from others. If Burnham’s words provided the structure for Eighth Grade, then Fisher’s performance was it’s heart and soul. My favorite moments in the film involved Kayla’s use of body language and how just a simple adjustment of posture or a glance downward can mean so much.
Overall, Eighth Grade is the quintessential film about growing up in an ever-changing world where how many views on a YouTube video is enough to shatter some peoples self-esteem. Burnham and Fisher are continuing this trend in 2018 of young filmmakers making a profound impact on social issues and likely on during awards season as well.