Comedian Bo Burnham’s directorial debut is a beautifully observed exploration of adolescence in all its excruciating awkwardness and devastating uncertainties. Starring Elsie Fisher (Medium, Despicable Me), Eighth Grade follows an introverted teen as she attempts to survive the last week of middle school before starting high school.
Kayla Day (Fisher) is an eighth grade student at a public school in New York City. Having struggled to make friends throughout her school life, the timid teenager passes the time by posting motivational videos on her YouTube channel to an almost non-existent audience. In between being exasperated by her overly protective single dad Mark (Josh Hamilton), and obsessing over the cute boy at school (Luke Prael), Kayla is constantly glued to her iPhone where social media gives her a false impression of being connected.
After being paired up with Olivia (Emily Robinson), a friendly twelfth grader at a high school shadow programme, Kayla finally starts to gain some confidence, but a shocking incident after a night out allows her to finally see some people for what they really are.
Writer/director Burnham (Parks and Recreation, The Big Sick), himself a child of the internet, is no stranger to the complicated world of social media. Having started his career as a teenage YouTuber in 2006, the director couldn’t have been better placed to tell this brilliantly complex, tender and hugely engaging coming of age story.
With a narrative peppered with some fantastically relatable and hilarious exchanges, Burnham handles his subject with frightening ease. From his depiction of the painful social awkwardness of teen parties, to the beautifully measured and well-judged handling of a sexual harassment scene, the director succeeds in getting the tone just right each time.
Mixing moments of extreme cringe-inducing awkwardness with a decidedly upbeat electronic music soundtrack, Burnham brings his truly unique style to the classical coming of age genre all the while avoiding the temptation to be too cool or needlessly alienating.
Elsie Fisher does a fine job in managing to seem both unremarkable and extraordinary in equal measure. She gives a moving and a carefully considered turn whilst never overstepping the mark into the overly melodramatic. For his part, Josh Hamilton (Frances Ha, The Meyerowitz Stories) really impresses as a self-effacing and deeply understanding dad.
Bo Burnham has given us one of the most honest, realistic and utterly devastating films about what it’s like to be a teenager in the 21st century. Eighth Grade is nothing short of a masterpiece, which, let’s face it, is impressive for a debut feature.