Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Eighth Grade - Review

Adolescence is never easy. It never has been, but through Bo Burnham’s portrayal of the modern troubles of teenage life, it certainly seems as though it may be worse than ever. The same typical problems of braces, body odor, and popularity still linger, but the presence of the internet, and more importantly social media, takes the anxiety of those issues and amplifies them to new, and frightening, heights.

Thirteen-year-old Kayla (Elsie Fisher) endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school -- the end of her thus far disastrous eighth-grade year.

The most perplexing element of Eighth Grade is how a 27-year-old man manages to capture the innate awkwardness of a 13-year-old middle school girl. And yet, director and writer Bo Burnham manages this is such a unique and genuine way that rivals the best of the best coming-of-age films. The material is handled in a way that plugs the audience into this girl’s life, not for meaningful moments, but for the mundane details. 

However, none of this extremely well-written material would land quite as hard without Elsie Fisher. The young actress emulates, and in some ways likely relives, the tumultuous time that adolescence can bring. From nervous moments of hesitation filled with “umms” and “uhhs” to concern surrounding a crush or even fitting in, Fisher illustrates each of these benchmark teenage tendencies with remarkable efficiency.

It helps that Burnham structures the film in such a way that every scene is handled from Kayla’s perspective. The terror of being the last to enter the pool at the party being handled like a scene out of a horror flick. Or the over the top music that plays as she fantasizes over her crush. Or even the scenario that plays out in the backseat of a car that may just be one of the tenser scenes of the year. Burnham manages a tone that is true to both his character and real life, drawing upon universal experiences of middle school to place everyone on the same anxious path as Kayla. 

Eighth Grade is a harrowing piece of work that serves as a modern look at adolescence in a social media driven world. In many ways, it holds up a mirror to a society that is ever-changing and how that affects the already worry riddled teenage life. Burnham somehow manages to capture all of this and, with the help of the wonderful and captivating Elsie Fisher, put it into this sincere and extremely accessible film. The level of style and confidence on display is outstanding, but Burnham’s ability to capture nuance in everyday life makes Eighth Grade one of the realistic teen films in years.

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