Eighth Grade (2018) Movie Review
Bo Burnham and his Directorial Debut...
This is the second directorial debut from a comedic actor I've seen this week and this was also, in my opinion, a solid effort. "Eighth Grade" does a terrific job capturing that awkward part of puberty that I think we've all gone through, while also showing how difficult it can be to establish relationships in today's society with the youth constantly obsessed with being on their phones and what's going on in social media. It also finds the humor with a girl just getting into her high school years such as the rocky kinship between her and her father, her going through having a crush on the 'bad boy' in school, figuring out certain things about sexual interactions, etc. Bo Burnham has always been a talented comedian, but I think he proves that he has more range in his talents here; he shows that he knows what he's talking about with being young and lacking confidence in oneself because of those awkward phases.
"Eighth Grade" centers on Kayla Day, a young girl who is in the very last week of her eighth grade year. In preparation of going into high school she goes through an arc of trying to figure herself out while also attempting to overcome her own personal anxieties such as being afraid to speak out and simply put herself out there so people can get to know her, trying to get the attention of the boy she likes, or even finding a way to make friends with some older kids that she finds to be cool.
What I really appreciate about this movie was that it felt like a story that someone personally went through, as if Bo Burnham had held onto his pre-high school experiences and wrote them all into his script. That is what this feels like to me and I dug that about this movie. I do remember feeling awkward at that time, honestly throughout most of my time in school, feeling the want I had inside of me to be more confident and put myself out there yet lacking the confidence to do so. It's tough at that age and it's made all the more difficult nowadays with the increase in technology integrated into our everyday lives, especially with teenagers. The movie does a really good job showing that puberty is confusing and more awkward now more than ever because we somewhat lack true human connection because the majority of kids now are consistently having their eyes focused on the screen of their phones rather than actually having a conversation in person with someone right in front of them. It also shows how much that has kind of driven the kids that feel left out to seek friendship and attention out in the world wide web whether it be via posting videos on YouTube or liking everyone's picture on Instagram. We all seek a connection in some way and that's what today's youth has pretty much been led towards to find it.
But when the youth finally comes across a human connection, what happens? This movie goes into that territory too. Kayla has opportunity after opportunity to interact with her father and she squanders it because that's not really the attention we want at that time, right? We want the cool kids to like us, we want the cute boy/girl to notice us, we want a million people to listen to what we have to say and hopefully like us for who we are because we want to feel special. Kayla has her father right there telling her right to her face that he believes her to be special, yet she blows it off. Why? Because at that age we're arrogant and stubborn. We want anyone who isn't family to tell us that same exact thing because somehow that makes it real. That awkward search feels fully realized in this movie.
I also like how this feels like Burnham's eighth grade equivalent to a film like "Fast Times at Ridgemont High". In certain aspects, particularly in the comedy and certain 'inopportune timed' moments, it was very reminiscent of what "Fast Times" would do with its characters that wound up in sticky situations. I laughed quite a bit in this movie, pretty hard at times as well. There's one specific running gag with a soundtrack choice that would play whenever the 'bad boy' would show up that really made me laugh every time. Although, like "Fast Times at Ridgemont High", it may be a funny movie but it also can get serious quick. With this movie there is a scene with Kayla and a high school boy that she meets and while it doesn't necessarily go into anything outright disturbing, it does get somewhat intense as things in the scene progress into a very uncomfortable level. And it doesn't feel out of place or tonally inconsistent, it feels natural to the story and captures that terrifying feeling when you're alone with someone and things just aren't quite right. The drama is also handled very well, in a way that feels realistic and believable. Especially with the scenes between Kayla and her father that seemed to understand how hard it is for a dad to talk to his own daughter in a way that reaches her without being too weird, but usually failing.
With a movie like this it could be really easy to make a teen girl that lashes out and acts moody most of the time extremely unlikable, maybe even downright irritating. Luckily with smart writing and a great performance by Elsie Fisher, the character of Kayla is relatable and I really routed for her to find her place in life or at the very least be happy. She made me laugh, she warmed my heart, she made me worry for her, Fisher does a lovely job and I am looking forward to seeing her in the future.
If I were to name any complaints, I suppose that maybe it would be that the film lacks focus at times. Not terribly so, but the structure could have had a more solid foundation. There are also some subplots and scenes that probably could have been cut or shortened. But at the same time, this movie was made to capture the feeling of the early teen years and how life kind of comes with its own set of random events, sometimes those events don't add to more than just 'well that happened and it's over now'. I had a good time with this movie; it's smart, has good commentary on social media/technology, downright funny and touching writing, quality acting, and a pretty decent soundtrack. "Eighth Grade" is entertaining and I strongly recommend to check it out if you haven't already!
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© 2018 John Plocar