Bo Burnham’s stunning directorial debut Eighth Grade, is a beautiful reflection of early adolescence in all its awkwardness. The tentative steps into adulthood mixing with the humour of coming of age. Providing a truly remarkable film that captures the emotions, turmoil and development of being 13 in a fresh and natural style.
Eighth Grade never seeks to over dramatise the formative years of early adolescence. Providing a beautifully realised snapshot of the journey into adulthood. Encapsulating the intensity, emotion and humour of teenage life, in a way few other films of the genre achieve. Making it into our essential list of coming of age films, alongside such classics as Stand By Me and The Breakfast Club.
Set during the final year of middle school. Eighth Grade follows Kayla (Elsie Fisher), who’s confident video blogging alter ego, hides the insecurities of her own inner thoughts and place in school. Unlike her confident online presence. Kayla struggles to find belonging in the social structures of middle school. Longing for friendship and visibility in peer groups based on popularity and confidence. During a year of transition for every young person in her class.
Eighth Grade understands the turmoil and fear of belonging and acceptance experienced by young people during their formative school years. Daring its audience to delve into their buried memories of early adolescence.
Social media sits at the heart of Burnham’s exploration of adolescence, playing a central role in Kayla’s journey. Burham confidently exploring the newly emerging interface between teenage life in an online and offline world. Including both the stress and comfort it creates in equal measure. Bringing his personal insight of a career kickstarted on YouTube to the cinema screen. Without feeling the need to judge or engaging in moralistic messages on its place and purpose. Eighth Grade adeptly explores the escapism social media allows. Alongside the gradual replacement of the written private diary with socially accessible content. Young people use pictures, videos and likes to portray who they desire to be. Replacing the reality of the stumbling, insecure and awkward teenagers they really are.
But away from its reflection of our modern world of social media. Eighth Grade also beautifully explores the emotional and social journey into adult life. Reflecting back to the audience the social challenges and personal conflict inherent in early teenage identity. While reminding us all, no matter of our age, the impact these years have on our social development.
The polarised environment of school, sitting alongside the attempts of teachers, parents and adults to relate to young people. Those very young people often having little interest in the opinions of adults who seem so old. Central to this is the challenging, yet deeply loving relationship between Kayla and her Dad (Josh Hamilton). A man desperately seeking for new ways to communicate and relate to his daughter as she grows into a young woman; often stumbling in his ability to reach her. Their parent/teenage relationship beautifully echoing the challenges all parents face in building new relationships with their children as they develop into young adults.
Performances never seek to trivialise or enhance the emotions of being 13. Providing nuanced and real interpretations of teenage life. This is a cast who understand the myriad of feelings, emotions and sensitivities inherent in the coming of age journey. With humour counterbalanced by fumbled meetings, apprehension and intense emotion. Reminding the audience of the innocence, exploration and desire for change inherent in young people.
The beauty of the script, direction and performances is wrapped by a musical score that ripples with unconventionality and awkwardness. Reflecting its characters and settings impeccably.
Bo Burnhams directorial debut is a tour de force in a genre where adult views on teenage life often cloud the realities of growing up. Eighth Grade’s ability to portray the insecurities, exploration and social development of early teenage life. Alongside the awkwardness and humour of growing up make it a one of the finest coming of age films of the past decade.