This review was originally published as part of our Sundance Film Festival coverage on 03/06/2018.
Most people will understand the feeling of suddenly recalling a specific, painfully embarrassing moment from your childhood – Eighth Grade is this feeling at feature length. Internet personality and stand-up comedian Bo Burnham is remarkably insightful in his presentation of adolescence, here shown through the lens of social media. Following Kayla in her final week of middle school, the film mashes together incisive humour about adolescence in the age of the internet and the widening generational gap, and Kayla’s anxiety over attempting to fit in and improve herself.
While there’s plenty of humour in Kayla’s awkwardness, the film always takes her feelings seriously. Burnham has fun with teenage melodrama and adult cluelessness, but the most significant characters are endearing to watch, standouts coming in the form of an extremely kind high schooler that ‘mentors’ Kayla, and her father – effectively a bumbling take on Stuhlbarg’s Call Me By Your Name dad.
Eighth Grade also stands as perhaps the best integration of social media into a film of this type, with Kayla’s blogs standing in for narration, and her other interactions with it often unfolding in montages where her face, hypnotised by the screen, is superimposed over what she is looking at. As Kayla is mostly awkward and quiet outside of her vlogging, the film’s direction is remarkable in allowing us to share her feelings – Wehde’s camerawork is utilised to anxiety-inducing effect, the editing and wonderful needle-drops working in tandem both for humour and pathos.
Bo Burnham’s tremendous directorial debut is anchored by a wonderful, often all-too real performance from Elsie Fisher, to the point where you’ll find yourself just praying for her to make it through. And that’s the magic of Eighth Grade, a hilarious and often horrifying exploration of the trials of growing up.
CAST: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton
DIRECTOR: Bo Burnham
WRITER: Bo Burnham
SYNOPSIS: Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school — the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year — before she begins high school.