Eighth Grade - 2018
Director(s): Bo Burnham
Writer(s): Bo Burnham
Cinematography by: Andrew Wehde
Editor(s): Jennifer Lilly
Cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Jake Ryan, Daniel Zolghadri, Fred Hechinger and Imani Lewis
Synopsis: An introverted teenage girl tries to survive the last week of her disastrous eighth grade year before leaving to start high school (IMDB).
Eighth Grade comes from the mind of writer, singer, actor and standup comedian, Bo Burnham. I’ve been following his career ever since he became a YouTube celebrity with his comedic songs at the age of sixteen and have been impressed with his evolution as an artist. I was lucky enough to see one of his standups live and have always been in awe of his control over all the elements occurring within his show. Everything is planned and nothing happens by mistake. So, when he announced his movie I was surprised by the shift he took in his career, but excited as to what may come of his new medium. After watching his directorial debut, I’m even more excited to see what he will do next. Let’s talk about it.
The story follows Kayla (Elsie Fisher) during her final weeks in eighth grade. She is an introvert who fantasizes about being out in the world having friends, a boyfriend and having a big following on YouTube. We see her live a dual life - one where she is giving out advice to her YouTube audience about how to act in the real world, and one where she can’t take her own advice in real life and struggles to connect with others. These moments are drenched in awkwardness so real that you can’t help to travel back to when your body is betraying you and you are not sure if you will make it to the next day since every single tiny incident seems like the end of the world. By the end she starts to get a small semblance of what the world is and starts to be more comfortable in her skin and with the people around her.
Quick note: Bo Burnham’s comedic timing shines through his writing and Jennifer Lilly’s editing is brilliant.
One of the aspects that helps this movie a lot is the use of real kids. I don’t mean that other movies use robots for their children, I mean that they cast kids who are currently in the eighth grade and it shows. Their awkward line deliveries, their body language and their interactions feel and look real, only helping the story and the themes touched throughout the runtime. Elsie Fisher makes her debut count as she shines in the lead role as the sweet and perfectly introverted Kayla. You fall in love with her and you just want her to crawl out of the hole she mentally dug for herself. The funniest moments come from the adults trying to “connect” with the kids using their slang, only to be received by blank stares from the kids.
Quick note: this movie score is fantastic. It’s fast paced and helps drive the emotions felt by the lead and how they dictate her actions.
Now, this movie isn’t perfect as many aren’t. The biggest qualm I have with this movie is the cinematography. At times, the movie just looks boring. Not that the story or the acting is boring, just that it’s usually uninteresting. Many of the actors are barely visible since the lighting is bad or it’s coming from behind them. This is a thing that can be easily be attributed to it being his first feature and something that can be improved upon with experience.
Eighth Grade manages to capture what it feels to be a teenager drowning in emotions and what it is to live through this social media age. Bo Burnham wrote a funny, awkward, heartwarming, genuine look at what it is to have the whole world in front of you, yet feel like you have nothing going for you. The natural growth of the story feels like it was based on character decisions and not that it was forced to go there by the script. Elsie Fisher is a wonderful actress and her relationship with her father (Josh Hamilton) felt real and uplifting. I’m very excited to see where Bo goes from here. Burnham is why I love movies.
Eighth Grade is currently playing in theaters. Go watch it.
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