Wednesday, August 15, 2018

[Review] Eighth Grade

Web sensation turned acclaimed standup comedian Bo Burnham makes his feature directorial debut with Eighth Grade, a funny a sharply observed coming-of-age gem for the YouTube era that places focus on, yes -- the eighth grade.

The 8th grader here is Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher). She's quiet, and somewhat of an outcast (let's just say the popular kids don't pay her much attention). In her spare time she uploads videos to her channel where she talks about topics such as self-confidence and growing up. It's never quite clear how many subscribers she has, but we get the impression that there aren't many. Anyway, the film follows her as she navigates her last days through the ups and downs of the all-so-pivotal 8th grade.

The film sticks tightly to a low-key, almost restrained tone -- but it's so real, so raw, and yes - so relatable. And it's heavier on the more serious and dramatic stuff, but it also contains plenty of humorous moments (my favorite is the ongoing bit of the kid randomly shouting "LeBron James" in the background). There are some almost unbearably squirmy scenes along the way, like the birthday-present-opening scene where Kayla is reluctantly invited to the pool party of one of her stuck-up classmates, and well, you can imagine how it goes (I'm turning red just thinking about it). Elsie Fisher plays the part well, consistently exhibiting a believable air of socially awkward clumsiness. Also impressive is Josh Hamilton, who plays Kayla's single father. It's a likable and well-developed character, as he's caught in a strange space between being "cool dad" and genuinely concerned about the well-being of his daughter. In turn, the film functions in two nuanced ways, because it explores what it's like to be an 8th grader, as well as what it's like to raise one.

Bo Burnham also serves as the writer here, and his script keenly dives into themes about self-esteem, what it means to "be yourself", and how different platforms of social media affect each generation. 8th grade brings changes we want, and changes we don't want. Some things that we want to stay the same...don't, and some things that we don't want to stay the Confusing? That's a pretty good summation of eighth grade.

* 9/10 *

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