The pressures and anxieties of a 14-year-old girl navigating eighth grade in the social media age are put under the microscope in writer/director Bo Burnham’s achingly observant little gem Eighth Grade.
Be Yourselfby Chris Drew
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is in her final week of eighth grade before graduating to high school. Like all her peers, she lives through her smartphone, constantly scrolling through a flurry of instagram posts and snapchat filters. Outwardly quiet and awkward at school, inwardly she is self-aware and determined to push herself past her angst.
At home we see her create highly astute and insightful advice vlogs about self-confidence and being yourself, but with all the repeated ‘umms’ and ‘likes’ of a typical young teen and signed off with an endearing catchphrase that is never explained. Kayla faces terrifying nerves in confronting her fear at a pool party and the heart-stopping, overwhelming feeling of a first crush, while an opportunity for an introductory visit to high school brings welcome and unexpected friendship.
There are great moments of humour throughout; dabbing teachers, comical language in a school sex-ed video, and a hilarious scene with a quirky chicken-nuggets expert. By contrast, a truth-or-dare scene escalates into a potentially dark situation for Kayla.
At the heart of the film is Kayla’s immensely touching relationship with her warm and caring single father. Josh Hamilton (Frances Ha) gives a wonderful performance, always at pains to stress his pride and support for Kayla and tolerating her constant phone use.
In a true breakthrough role, Fisher is astonishing and rightly Golden Globe nominated. She carries so much of the film on her shoulders and with an ease that belies her years. From her often slightly hunched posture to her endearing patterns of speech, Fisher, together with Burnham, creates a character you cheer for, cringe for, want to protect and befriend. You come to care deeply for Kayla so spending 94 minutes in her company is a joy.
In creating a defining film for Generation Z, comedian, musician, actor, filmmaker and poet Burnham has established himself as a real talent to watch and in the delightful Fisher has discovered a star.
Eighth Grade premiered in the UK at Sundance London and is released on 26 April 2019 in the UK.