Movie Review: Eighth Grade
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Director: Bo Burnham
by Jason Koenigsberg
Just when you thought you have seen it all, another great coming of age movie comes out with a completely different point of view and is as emotionally engaging and moving as all the other coming of age movies you love. Eighth Grade is that film and it is more than worthy of your time and money. It is a delight, painful at times, fun at times, almost always awkward but when it finds its way it is truly a warm, nuanced and remarkable experience.
The opening shot we meet our main character Kayla as she is making Youtube videos about advice for her peers and then these scenes are usually followed up with her taking her own advice and using it in real life. We learn that she lives with her father and has no other siblings. The film never explains where her mother went or why she is not there but it does not matter, the audience is thrust into the final months of her eighth-grade life as she struggles to fit in with the social norms and navigate her way on a painful and realistic journey. There are moments where Eighth Grade will remind you of some other terrific coming of age films of recent years such as Boyhood (2014), Edge of Seventeen (2016), and Lady Bird (2017), but make no mistake about it, Eighth Grade is very much its own picture that shares themes with those movies and has scenes that rival the most powerful moments of those films.
Technology is extremely pervasive in this movie as it is for all students currently in or around eighth grade. It may seem jarring to those not used to watching teens constantly looking at their phone but this is what it is like for people in that age group. But do not be deterred thinking that watching kids look at a phone will be boring, Writer/director Bo Burnham goes to great efforts to make sure that there is never a dull moment in Eighth Grade and it is especially poignant the way he shot the eyes of our main character as we see what she is seeing on her smartphone.
The score sounds like something an eighth-grader could have composed on some sort of home computer music program, but once again, do not let that deter you. It enhances the film and the acting really making some scenes scarier or funnier than they would have been without the music. Eighth Grade is laced with irony within the script as her character appears very social on social media but is more of a hermit in real life. She is open and honest and comfortable with herself in her videos online, but very shy, restrained and isolated in real life. Seeing Kayla slowly emerge from her introverted self and become more comfortable around other people is one of the greatest joys of Eighth Grade.
The performances are as realistic as you could get in a motion picture. They are on par with the great neorealist works of Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. Especially powerful is Elsie Fisher as the main character finding herself as she goes through her awkward phase socially and physically in Eighth Grade and a special commendation should go to Josh Hamilton who plays her loving father. They help make Eighth Grade a special film that feels as if it captures the awkwardness and beauty of that unique transitional phase where we all go from children to young adults and find ourselves along the way.