>> In 2009, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president, Ke$ha’s funky smash hit “Tik Tok” blared on car radios, and I entered eighth grade. It’s surreal to think that was nearly a decade ago, and it’s crazy to see how much has changed. To be honest, I wasn’t quite aware of how different the middle school lifestyle had become until seeing Bo Burnham’s feature debut, Eighth Grade. Eighth Grade follows Kayla (Elsie Fisher) as she completes her last week of being an eighth grader. We watch as she navigates through extremely awkward encounters, and learns to find comfort in being herself.
Going into this film, I anticipated an exceptionally unique story due to the hype around the film. The story itself is nothing particularly new. However, certain scenes and the specific way Burnham approaches them is candid and extremely cringe-worthy. This film focuses on the significance of the trials and tribulations of middle school, and its honesty is blunt and full force. Most of my notes I took during the film read “cringe” and “yikes” in large letters. In a recent interview with Filmspotting host Adam Kempenaar, Burnham discusses his love for the on-screen performances directors work to achieve with their actors. Eighth Grade is undoubtedly a product of that adoration. Fisher’s performance is piercingly real—frankly the best performance from a teenager I have ever seen. From clumsy body language to strange vocal inflections, Fisher’s performance is effortlessly flawless. Saying that her performance carries this film is an understatement.
The film has some unique stylistic elements, with the best being the film’s score: a uniquely fitting soundtrack that’s utilized to emphasize the film’s comedic value. While there are many good things about this film that doesn’t hide the fact that it’s visually unappealing. From shot composition to color correction this film lacks in visual lure and sophistication, especially from a director who mentioned that his influences included Julia Ducournau and Andrea Arnold. It doesn’t help that the film’s cinematographer, Andrew Wehde, is known for filming stand-up comedy specials.
This film is a great tool for parents to really understand the harsh horizon of being a thirteen year old in an age distinguished by Instagram likes and DMs. Despite the R rating, I think it’s a great film for middle schoolers to see as well; it’s informative and may even offer some comfort to those struggling with confidence, crushes and more. I didn’t immediately see the worth in this film—but the more it settles, the more I have come to appreciate it. On the other hand, my mom has made it clear (several times) that the film did not sit well with her, and “we should’ve seen that Joaquin Phoenix movie”. 7/10 <<
(To accompany this review I thought it was only fitting to share some relics from my early teenage years, which includes my favorite green fuzzy diary.)
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