A24 (2018)

 

Director: Bo Burnham

 

Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Fred Hechinger

The angst of the early teen years.

 

Eighth Grade, to be precise. Debutant Bo Burnham delivers a slab of young trials and tribulations in his coming-of-age story based on the turbulent transition between middle school and high school. It’s certainly been anything but easy for Kayla Day (Fisher) – the shy, introverted teen who presents herself online as outgoing and confident, but in reality, suffers from what many of us do – confidence issues. We follow her story via her online vlogs, uncomfortable pool parties, dealings with boys, her doting father Mark (Hamilton) and her desire to just fit in.

Young Elsie Fisher leads the way with a wonderfully jerky, poignant and current performance. Eighth Grade really focuses in on the iGen and the near-rabid use of messaging, internet, social media, and social interactions and Fisher portrays the age marvellously. She never feels like a parody and never feels anything other than believable. You feel her pain, joy and, at times, cringe with and for her.

 

Themes of anxiety, insecurities and the need to find ‘yourself’ are rife throughout and it’s that last one that shines brightest. Through the troubles you face at that age, with typical mean peers, sexual awakenings and the ‘pressures’ of a social media identity, the idea that you can grow beyond all of that and come out better on the other side is the prevalent message. What we face during those key years stay with us and shape our future – the issues we overcame and the experiences we learn and Burnham manages to capture these moments with a consummate eye and perceptiveness.

 

Clocking in at just over ninety-minutes, there’s a sharp pace to the movie and it moves along just nicely – nothing feels rushed or glossed over. Burnham has a great eye for framing as well, allowing us to really see the sad cogs working behind Fisher’s eyes after every put down with a tight shot of her or a slow, almost voyeuristic zoom in.

 

Speaking freely, there’s not an awful lot to dislike about this movie. The performances are incisive, the situations authentic and the emotion is balanced well, and it never becomes too scathing or too saccharine. In the avalanche of coming-of-age movies past and present, Eighth Grade jumps into the top echelons with a confident leap.

 

"Eighth grade is the worst,"...not this time, kiddo.

September 25th 2018

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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