“Eighth Grade” makes nervous 13-year-olds of us all
We often correlate high school to uneasiness and anxiety. Bo Burnham relates it to the frightened thirteen-year-old in us all in “Eighth Grade,” a film about the final week of eighth grade for Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher). She records YouTube videos speaking words of motivation and advice for her next-to-invisible audience but struggles with shyness in day-to-day life and worries about her impending high school social life. Kayla’s father (Josh Hamilton) tries his best to make her feel okay about her situation, usually falling on earbud-filled ears.
“Eighth Grade” is as much about adolescent anxiety as it is about technological reliance and the way that affects everyone, regardless of age.
Writer/director/comedian Burnham takes his first crack at filmmaking and does so wonderfully, with craftsmanship and character building that feels relatable and anxiety inducing. He manages to stir emotions and create a free flowing narrative that feels like it can jump anywhere from one scene to the next.
Burnham is perhaps most famous for the start up of his career ─ YouTube videos of comedic songs he would perform to send to his brother at college in the mid 2000s. The videos gained traction and eventually led to his music/comedy career ─ performing shows and even a couple of specials featured on Netflix. His shows, hilarious and creative, were also introspective and questioned his own relevance, importance and the impact of entertainment in modern society.
Fisher does a great job of capturing the cyclical late-night scroll through an Instagram feed and the angst- fueled venting of frustration at her father. She captures what makes us all feel a little worried at times. Hamilton carries his weight as well, the scenes featuring the two are strikingly memorable.
No one likes feeling anxious or unsure of the world around them, but we’ve all been there and still are at times ─ Burnham does a wonderful job connecting these ideas with a story that feels real. He also finds the best way to elicit these emotions and feelings through his characters ─ Fisher, who is most famous for her voice-over role in the “Despicable Me” franchise, performs perfectly in a challenging live action role.
While “Eighth Grade” asks massive questions about generational differences, it packages them small, ensuring there’s comedy to balance the scales against the grain of youthful angst. Burnham conducts some social commentary in sly, short sequences ─ one particularly illustrating how an active shooter drill in school is mundane to the student body.
“Eighth Grade” owns its free flowing nature and is able to make our inbetweener years feel like life-or-death, turning the daily decisions of middle school into dire situations.
“Eighth Grade” is open nationwide July 20.
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