Title: Eighth Grade
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director/Writer: Bo Burnham
Music: Anna Meredith
Cinematography: Andrew Wehde
American Youtube sensation and comedian Bo Burnham’s first directorial feature, EIGHTH GRADE brackets its time frame within the last week before a New York eighth grader, Kayla Day (Fisher), graduating to high school, and allow us a visceral view of her prepubescent purgatory.
At first glance, one might get the impression that Kayla is a gregarious, popular vlogger as we watch her confidently imparts cracker-barrel wisdom from her youtube videos, but soon it shows that in public she is the antithesis, crowned by her classmates as the most quiet girl (what the point of singling out the “superlatives”? American school system could do without that hazardous labeling diet), where her introverted, self-conscious id starkly jars with the text “the coolest girl in the world” written on her time-capsule box, so the film is after all, a story about an unostentatious, wallflower teenager who tentatively tries to walk the talk of the guidelines proselytized in all her motivational videos.
Promisingly, Burnham doesn’t flinch from touching a raw nerve to flag up a zitty, slightly plump Kayla’s sense of inferiority and awkwardness, who bestirs herself to reach out of her comfort zone, hobnobs with the popular stuck-up Kennedy (Oliviere), who disdains her and habitually gives her the cold shoulder, inexplicably cottons to a bad boy type classmate Aiden (Prael, emanating an epicanthic coldness through massive close-up, often cued by rambunctious background music), and unthinkingly lets rip to her convivial father Mark (Hamilton), who takes up the daunting job of being the receptacle of her pent-up frustrations and annoyance with apparent nonchalance and undimmed resilience, which in turn abjectly points up the hardship of single-parenting.
A school shadow program offers Kayla a preview of her forthcoming high school life, befriends with a cool twelfth grader Olivia (Robinson), she is delight to find out her easy-going nature is highly valued by the latter, but soon reality kicks in with a darker shade of cruelty when Kayla is cornered into a fix when she is most vulnerable, and Burnham shows up that a resolute “no” is the operative word to bolster a girl’s defense mechanism. It is up to a nocturnal heart-to-heart with Mark that eventually recuperates Kayla’s self-assurance, a hackneyed move miraculously trotted out by Josh Hamilton’s unexpectedly heat-warming delivery, that adequately hits the high note of the film’s emotional charge.
Afterwards, life goes on, Kayla prepares another time capsule for a future high school self, and comes off as being wiser (spending time with more proper candidates of friends) and more confident (venting her rage to the one who really deserves), baby steps, still is something worth celebrating, much owing to a rather vivid performance from Elsie Fisher. Ultimately, one can get how EIGHTH GRADE has become an indie darling since its Sundance debut, an un-whitewashed heart-stealer mining into the hostile quotidian circumstances of Generation Z in America, peppered up with immediacy, relevance, a throbbing electronic aural accompaniment, and best use of Enya’s ORINOCO FLOW in a motion picture.