July 16, 2018

CINEMA | Bo Burnham Graduates from 'Eighth Grade'

"It's gonna be lit!"
Elsie Fisher Josh Hamilton Bo Burnham | Eighth Grade

YouTuber turned comedian Bo Burnham makes his feature-length directorial debut with a poignant exploration of female adolescence. Newcomer Elsie Fisher stars as a soon to be high schooler unpacking her last days of middle school. Eighth Grade takes one specific point in childhood (à la Boyhood) and explores it thoroughly with some touching, deeply affecting results.

We follow almost exclusively Fisher's thirteen-year-old Kayla—voted "most quiet" by her classmates—through her last days of eighth grade as summer looms in a pivotal segment of her personal growth. Interspersed with her plainly-filmed motivational YouTube tutorial videos, it's a quietly sweet and sometimes heartwrenching encapsulation of this girl's thoughtfulness, courage, and anxiety. Fisher's sensitive performance is so full of naturalistic, overly emotional bursts mixed with a detached indifference.

Josh Hamilton plays Kayla's singer father so unbelievably endearingly both somewhat embarrassing her and completely expressing not only his love but also admiration for her character. His small acting choices interacting with his daughter both observing and emoting his feelings really anchor the film's free-flowing narrative.

How Burnham expresses the aloofness and lack of self-awareness of adults surrounded by teens and what they go through is so cringe-worthy yet hilarious. Teachers and other adult figures constantly co-op or misinterpret teenage behaviour for some truly funny, totally unaware gags.

Elsie Fisher Bo Burnham | Eighth Grade

Centred throughout the film is the idea of confidence. Kayla is painfully shy but takes clear steps to empower herself and break out of her shell. Opportunities arise to showcase herself beyond her quiet demeanour and those scenes feature both a genuine awkwardness and endearing authenticity to them.

The film treats the trivialness of youth with such importance and seriousness where pool parties, car rides, or going to the mall can be so nervewracking and cause for mass anxiety despite their seeming mundanity.

Eighth Grade is such an earnest and mature work set in the most vulnerable and immature periods of anyone's life. How Burnham uses docudrama conventions to dramatize current preteen life so personally and up-close makes the reluctant coming-of-age story so painfully prescient. It's an illuminating and intimate look into the mysterious elusiveness of teenage girls. It feels true their (sometimes terrifying) experiences. Gucci!

Eighth Grade opens in Vancouver on July 27th.


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