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Eighth Grade – Movie Review

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Eighth Grade – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

Even with many films catering towards tween audiences and attempting to capture that awkward period before teenagerhood, few seem to really nail the awkwardness of that time. Making his feature directing debut with Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham has a genuine understanding of being thirteen years old. Most impressively, he is completely in tune with a generation raised on YouTube and Instagram. Featuring an excellent lead performance by Elsie Fisher, there is no attempt to censor what goes on in young minds. This is a movie a lot of young people will see themselves in and the restrictive rating shouldn’t keep them from watching it.

Burnham immediately sets the tone and establishes his central character Kayla rather quickly. The opening sequence, in which she films a video for her barely watched YouTube channel, is the right level of awkwardness as she attempts to collect her thoughts through a series of “ums” and “likes.” Fisher makes us sympathise with Kayla and her uncertainty of how she’s perceived by her classmates, although her flaws are also clearly highlighted. This is most seen through her relationship with her father, a man struggling with how to be a single parent. He seems just as confused about this strange time in her life as Kayla is. Burnham effectively mixes their more emotional and dramatic scenes with the right level of humour.

Burnham’s screenplay perfectly captures the preteen’s specific style of speech as well as those of teenagers. There’s an immaturity level that comes with transitioning from child to young adult and Burnham isn’t afraid of having his characters give idiotic comments. Whether it’s needlessly quoting Rick and Morty or saying something wrongheaded they will regret in a few years time, Burnham’s screenplay showcases the inanity of these conversations. Eighth Grade doesn’t feel like it exists in a manufactured world or the head of a screenwriter. The film does not look back at youth with rose-tinted glasses and goes to show that each generation is not all that different.

Technology and modern attitudes can change, though, and Burnham mainly uses the abundance of apps to show what today’s preteens are fascinated by. Editor Jennifer Lilly pieces together a  remarkable montage of Kayla merely scrolling past her multiple social media feeds. Rather than pointing a finger at her for being so enraptured in them, Eighth Grade creates an understanding of the appeal the likes of Instagram and YouTube have on current youngsters. Just as there is an awkwardness to how the pre-teens in the movie choose to spend their time, Burnham also shows the desperation of adults when they get in on young fads.

Many young people today will watch Eighth Grade and find plenty of elements to relate to. However, even those who didn’t have YouTube or Snapchat when they were thirteen will remember the awkwardness that greeted that year. The humour mixes superbly well with the more emotional and uncomfortable moments and there is a realness to the production. Even a small scene of Kayla struggling to open a sliding door says a lot. Nothing is cleaned up, right down to the makeup artists not even bothering to hide the pre-teens’ acne. Eighth Grade will certainly hit a little too close to home for most viewers, but it’s good to see a filmmaker shining a light on the difficulties faced by tweens as they attempt to navigate the rocky waters of growing up.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison