Friday, July 13, 2018

Eighth Grade: Movie Review

Loneliness and anxiety in one adolescent girl.
Eighth Grade really is a different type of movie. It’s not hyper-sexualized nor edgy and dark. It’s just about one girl and her intense struggles with her place in life. The intensity comes solely from the pressures she places on herself to be cool. There’s a heartbreaking realness to her very palpable anxiety and that’s where this movie shines. Eighth Grade puts words and an empathetic face to the universal concept of every-day nervousness. 2018

Directed by: Bo Burnham

Screenplay by: Bo Burnham

Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

There’s a book-end to the movie that I adored and will help with a point I want to hammer home. It’s Kayla’s final week of eighth grade and she just won Most Quiet, which she hates. If people just talked to her, they would realize that she’s talkative with a lot of interesting things to say. She’s in a room with the cool kids who all won much better superlatives and her anxiety gets in the way of her trying to be friendly. The kids all made memory boxes two years earlier and now they get to re-experience what was important to them and see how they have changed. Kayla opens hers quietly and alone, contemplating a SpongeBob SquarePants USB key.

Elsie Fisher in EIGHTH GRADE. Photo by Linda Kallerus, courtesy of Elevation Pictures
It’s true, most people will cry, Kayla’s experiences are heart-breaking, but her experiences are also very different from a lot of people’s experiences. And some of the immense praise is surprising. Kayla is not explicitly bullied, her classmates voted her Most Quiet, which is hardly an insult, they just ignored her all the time. I would have given anything to be ignored in eighth grade, so my sympathy for Kayla was a bit limited. That disconnect existed for me and will exist for many people who were actively bullied, not just ignored (a form of passive bullying).

However, Kayla’s desire to have friends and be popular, is real. It pains her everyday and she does everything that society encourages her to do. She’s on social media liking and responding to classmates’ posts and she runs a video series where she talks about being yourself and having confidence. Which she tries. All of her attempts are misguided and all the adults in the audience will predict the unfortunate outcomes that Kayla doesn’t see coming.

Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton in EIGHTH GRADE. Photo by Linda Kallerus, courtesy of Elevation Pictures.
Kayla’s only close confidant is her father – the absolutely brilliant and hilarious Josh Hamilton. Of course Kayla does everything she can to keep her father out of her life, and he frequently responds with amusing one-liners or light-hearted exasperation. This is the best portrayal of a father I’ve seen on the big screen in a long time. He’s delightful, caring and real. And he really gets to shine when Kayla finally figures out what she needs to do with her memory box.

Star Elsie Fisher really grounds Kayla’s emotions into reality and her portrayal of constant anxiety is a minor miracle – something which very few movies and actresses have even attempted let alone succeed at. The movie is very indie in its presentation, and fitting for today’s world, significant use of social media, but can provide further disconnect for older audience members (but at least the rest of us have Josh Hamilton).

Ultimately, Eighth Grade is a curious movie. Funny and heartbreaking with leads portraying a universal emotion but there can still be disconnect.