A coming-of-age movie alternating between should-see, and viewing with cautious recollection. The former because it’s emotionally authentic, the latter dredges up painful fears and insecurities of a 14-year-old which revive viewer memories of their middle-school miseries. Having established that, “Eighth Grade” is a splendid awkward coming-of-age comedy.
Adolescent issues are a blending of awkwardness, anxiousness and acne. You’re unsure of who you are as a person and unless you cultivate it, social media can shine a light into how “boring and unoriginal” your life truly is.
An observation by stand-up comedian and actor Bo Burnham (screenwriter/director), the film recalls that period in his life. It’s a hurmorous/bittersweet ornament focusing on childhood emotional angst. The narrative has a link to the digital generation’s obsession for split second contact with peers, an attempt to be someone who will be accepted by other teens you feel are constantly judging you.
Burnham’s cast is headed by 15 year old Elsie Fisher whose impressive resume includes voicing the littlest sister in the first two “Despicable Me” movies. The actress plays Kayla, who’s grinding through the last few days of eighth grade. She lives at home with her single dad, and while they clearly love each other, they don’t seem particularly close. Part of that’s natural; part of it is because Kayla is socially awkward, and her dad’s not sure what to do about her.
Kayla’s not comfortable with herself. She makes videos, posting them on YouTube that chronicle her life and experiences, such as they are. They are essentially self-help images of her giving herself the advice, full of common-sense talk suggestions like those from her dad. They’re honest and distressing and most of them only get one or two views. She’s caught in that weird, in-between area of wanting to disappear and wanting everyone to know who she is and to share in her life. She builds a confident persona online while struggling with loneliness and anxiety in the real world.
Kayla’s nightmare year is mercifully coming to an end with the last week of middle school, meaning her humiliations will cease, but not before one last humbling incident. At the school’s final assembly, she wins the vote for being “most quiet,” thus enhancing the illusion of being introverted, with no close friends, or even a boyfriend to confide in.
The viewer may feel over sentimental along the way, but the film seems somewhat connected to the John Hughes teen flicks of the 1980s, as well as the free wheeling rebellious happenings in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” of that era. Teen social issues of the past are no different than today.
Fisher is receiving high praise for her portrayal of the put-upon teen. Her sensitive interpretation, feeling almost life like rather than acting, may indeed lift her to a successful adult career. I’m applauding from the sidelines.
“Eighth Grade” is rated R with certain objectional language that 14-year-olds would not necessarily be shocked by, but which parents might consider objectionable.