Eighth Grade (2018)

Eighth Grade
Director: Bo Burnham
Writer: Bo Burnham
Cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Daniel Zolghadri, Fred Hechinger, Imani Lewis, Luke Prael, Catherine Oliviere
Seen on: 31.8.2018

Eight-grader Kayla (Elsie Fisher) spends most of her time making YouTube videos where she dispenses advice on pretty much everything to pretty much no-one. In her videos, she talks about being confident, whereas in school she is so shy and speaks so little, she wins the award for being the most quiet student – much to her mortification. Middle school nears its end and Kayla is determined that things shall be different in high school. When she meets high schooler Olivia (Emily Robinson) and hits it off with her, she feels like she almost made it. But the transition isn’t so easy. Growing up isn’t so easy.

Eighth Grade is a thoroughly charming film and one of the most accurate portrayals of (early) puberty and its struggles that I have seen. Far removed from the glossy 25-year-olds who play teens and constantly talk about sex, Eighth Grade is much closer to reality – and that’s pretty lovely, even when it isn’t lovely at all.

The film poster showing Elsie Fisher as she takes a selfie.

I’m pretty critical of the tendency to have 20-somethings play teenagers – a wide-spread practice that does a disservice to teens everywhere, I think (making sexualization of them so much easier, for example). Refreshingly, Eighth Grade works with actors who are at the same age as their characters – and that makes a big difference because it makes it so much more obvious how close 14-year-olds are to being children. That they are, in fact, children, even if they do start stretching their toes into adulthood.

Elsie Fisher in particular is fantastic in her portrayal of Kayla. She has a simple vulnerability combined with a sense of humor that is just the right mixture for the film and its tone: we are all allowed to laugh about Kayla every once in a while, but we still have to take her pain and her earnestness seriously. The film and Fisher’s portrayal are always sympathetic to Kayla and her emotions, even if her reactions are funny.

Elsie Fisher and Emily Robinson in the film.

While the film focuses on the humor that can be found in Kayla’s situation (and does so with warmth), not everything that happens to her is fun. And when the situation is uncomfortable (there is one scene where a boy is being very pushy with her, for example), her discomfort is like a physical weight pushing you down, the film takes it that seriously.

I was very impressed with the film, especially considering that it’s Burnham’s first feature and given how young Fisher is. They get to a truth of being 14 years old that is rarely seen on film.

Fred Hechinger, Daniel Zolghadri, Elsie Fisher, Emily Robinson and Imani Lewis in the film.

Summarizing: Great.

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