AT THE MOVIES
//Written by Benjamin J. Gilyot
Elsie Fisher as Kayla
Josh Hamilton as Mark Day
Emily Robinson as Olivia
Jake Ryan as Gabe
In theatres August 3
Bo Burnham delivers a modern classic in his directorial debut. Eighth Grade puts audiences exclusively in the perspective of an anxious, earnest suburbanite as she prepares to enter high school. This marvelous film asks audiences to reflect on the harshness of youth through the eyes of Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher), supported by her perpetually optimistic father, Mark (Josh Hamilton).
We join Kayla as she films an uncomfortable YouTube tips video for a fictional audience. The initial video is cringeworthy, but forces audiences to feel instant sympathy for her earnest desire to connect with others. We learn very quickly that Kayla has no friends and her classmates only see her as “quiet.” Though she often rejects the advice her father gives her, she will often repeat the exact phrases in the videos she makes to a nonexistent audience. Kayla herself relies on tutorials and self-actualization strategies to pursue her goals of making friends, finding a best friend, and perhaps even a boyfriend. The video-making becomes a voiceover for major moments of the film, which leads audiences to wonder if the videos are more for Kayla than the fictional audience she wants to reach.
Throughout the film, we follow Kayla’s painful loneliness at a pool party, her first crush, new friendships, and even a first date. The film treats Kayla’s and her fellow students’ screen addiction as natural and asks audiences to reconsider the social difficulty of middle school under the constant pressure to brand one’s experiences in the YouTube age. Traditional scenes of awkward teachers attempting to communicate with the students through improper uses of modern slang create a sense of timelessness.
The loud soundtrack conveys Kayla’s intense feelings during scenes, only to cut back to the quiet buzz of the space around her. This juxtaposition with Kayla’s quiet, awkward interactions with others reminds audiences that developing genuine connection at a young age is hard. We can’t help but empathize with Kayla as she tries to be kind to would-be friends or puts herself in unwitting danger.
Fisher delivers a convincing performance as a young, anxiety-ridden girl desperately hoping her life will be better in high school, and Hamilton’s Mark wishes the audience would love and see his daughter the way he sees her. Purposeful camerawork leaves audiences feeling the frustrating sense of disconnection we experience in our own relationships and remember how desperately we wanted to be seen and understood as teenagers. In Eighth Grade, we have a new coming-of-age classic.
Check out the trailer for “EIGHTH GRADE” below: