Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school — the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year — before she begins high school.
The film makes a home in your brain and the only cure is to see it again.
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Strong acting helps the film overcome an uncertain premise and create characters that hold our attention absolutely.
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It’s not bad or unwatchable but despite the amplitude of the spectacle, the end result is underwhelming.
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When I went into the theater to see this film, I had no idea I was about to re-experience a forgotten time when I was submerged in a world of fear and insecurity. Bo Burnham took a trip to my subconscious and came back with pages of material. While I never tried to offer people advice in YouTube videos as the main character does, I strongly relate to the character in the following ways:A fear of being labeled as quiet (anxious people just want to fit in). Highly agreeable to the point of ridiculousness.Writing out bullet points of how to improvesocially
Attempting to say or do anything at parties while having crippling fearsWhile some of the feelings in the film are universal, it got all the specific fears of anxious kids down to a t. Something I have learned since the struggle of middle school is that some kids are genetically more sensitive than others, and this can translate to anxiety as a person gets older. If you have a child who notices and feels more than his or her peers like the girl in the film, research high sensitivity and see if they possibly have it. It can do wonders for self-esteem to reframe the past knowing they have a unique trait.
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Like Jordan Peele and John Krasinski before him, Bo Burnham creates a film that has no business being as great as it was. Eighth Grade is exactly the kind of film John Hughes would make if he were alive today. The actors really shine here. I can't think of even one line that wasn't delivered perfectly, which is even more impressive when you consider the fact that there's only one major adult character, the rest are all kids. Can we attribute that to Burnham's direction or are these actors really that great? Who cares? Neither answer changes the fact that Kayla is more relatable than just about any protagonist in 2018 film as a whole. Equally as impressive is the technical quality of Eighth Grade, which contains some of the best cinematography I've seen all year. Burnham and cinematographer Andrew Wehde seem to have had a lot of fun with this film, throwing in long zooms akin to 70s horror films, dramatic superimposing footage, and a nice mix of dolly work and handheld. The electronica music also fits perfectly with the tone of this film, which is elated and hilarious at its height and absolutely soul crushing at its lowest. All in all, during my screening of Eighth Grade I delighted in and suffered through my fair share of flashbacks to middle school despite having graduated six years before this film is set, which (to me) demonstrates the timelessness and accuracy of the writing and the film as a whole. After discussing this movie with a few friends I decided that I could not find one thing I didn't like about this movie. This is the closest thing I've seen to a perfect movie in a long, long time.
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Could Bo Burnham, comedian and long-time YouTube internet star, be the next Judd Apatow? With his first feature, Burnham has done his research into the minds and sensibilities of teenagers stuck in that awkward age just after the onset of puberty and before becoming more independent during the heady days of high school.
Eighth Grade focuses on his young protagonist, Kayla Day, winningly played by Elsie Fisher, who has been in the acting business since she was five years old. Usually in these coming-of-age stories focusing on school, the protagonist is pitted against a tangible opponent (often a bully) and much of the plot revolves around the conflict between the two. But here Burnham eschews such familiar tropes and hones in on Kayla's internal arc, highlighted by her lack of self-esteem and a journey to assert herself in a world which relies on social media to establish one's social cred.
Kayla is raised by a single parent father, Mark, who thinks the world of her but has difficulty communicating with his daughter as Kayla often feels embarrassed by his awkward entreaties. Instead she holes herself up in her room, creating motivational videos, which she posts on the internet but no one listens to. The videos are actually quite prescient and suggest she has a lot more on the ball than what her classmates give her credit for (she's voted "Most quiet" in an awards ceremony at school at the beginning of the film).
Indeed it's Burnham's sharp observations about student life that lift this film way above the clichés of the genre. In addition to the offbeat awards ceremony just alluded to, there are a slew of neat, unexpected activities at the school we're introduced to.
For example the students open up "time capsules" which they made on their first day at middle school. Now they watch their younger selves speaking to their older counterparts, wishing them good luck on their impending graduation and entrance into high school (at film's end, Kayla creates a new "time capsule," wishing her good luck on her next foray into college).
More unusual and compelling stuff: students undergoing a drill, where a teacher is dressed up as a school mass killer and instructed how to react if such a deadly situation arises (a sorry commentary on the state of affairs in this country at the present time!). Later, the eighth graders are paired up with high school students for a day at the local high school where they gain some valuable "experience" in what to expect when they begin attending in the fall.
Eighth grade is not plot heavy and depends on a series of vignettes that chart the protagonist's journey. Kayla is invited to the birthday pool party of a girl whom has snubbed her in school, but attends at the behest of the rival's mother. There she confronts Aiden, a boy she has a crush on, offering to send him nude pictures of herself. The boy counters by asking her if she knows how to give oral sex. This then results in Kayla's desire to educate herself on the subject by watching explicit online videos as well as practicing with a banana (practice which fails to come to fruition, after she's interrupted by her father).
The second act dark moment arrives after Kayla hooks up with Olivia, the high school student she was paired up with at school. Burnham smartly contrasts the older teenagers' more sophisticated banter with some of the more monosyllabic utterances of the younger crowd Kayla has been interacting with earlier.
In perhaps the most harrowing scene in the film (which hardly should be called harrowing), Kayla gets a ride home with Olivia's friend Riley, one of the older high school students, who parks his car, gets in the back seat with Olivia and begins playing a game of "truth or dare." He gets as far as taking his shirt off when Kayla makes it clear that she wants him to stop and drive her home. Fortunately there are no real tragic moments in the film but it's a learning moment for Kayla, who finally pours out her heart to her father, after the traumatic event.
If there is one flaw to this film, Burnham has some trouble wrapping things up. There's the overly sentimental scene involving the embrace between father and daughter as well as Kayla rather abruptly effecting her comeuppance of Kennedy, whom she bluntly tells off in the school hallway, right before film's end (maybe not the best way to demonstrate how she's found her confidence).
It's Burnham's observational skills about today's environment permeated by social media, as well as the psychology of the teenage mind, that prove he is a talent to be reckoned with. In addition, with his adroit use of social media and overall clever cinematography (not to mention the great use of music to enhance the drama), Burnham has already positioned himself as a major force in the cinematic world today.
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This movie was absolutely stunning in all departments. Although the acting and writing were definitely the highlights, the cinematography was great as well as the soundtrack. I cannot explain how amazing the music was handled and composed, in fact, shortly after watching the movie I downloaded the entire movie soundtrack onto my phone. The cinematography also lent an extreme amount of realism towards the movie which I highly appreciated. Moving onto the acting, this movie had some of the absolutely best acting that I have seen in a movie all year. Elsie Fisher did an amazing job as Kayla, she stole the show and has honestly given the best performance from any actress I have seen all year. Everyone in the movie did an excellent job in the acting department, nobody in my opinion stood out as a "bad" actor or actress. The writing in this movie was outstanding, Bo Burnham knows how to write an extremely realistic movie filled with hilarious moments, heartfelt moments, and shocking moments. Watching this movie was like watching the main character's life play out, which I thought was amazing, every single line of the movie felt extremely realistic and exactly how a teenager or an adult would behave in modern society. The way I see it, even though this movie is by no means an original concept, it is so well directed, well written, and well acted that it blew me away regardless. This is going to end up being one of my favorite movies of the year I can already tell. I hope to see many more movies from Bo Burnham in the future, the man is a genius.