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. While 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. While equally encapsulating the intensity, emotion and humour of teenage life, in a way few other films of the genre achieve. Consequently 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. Despite a confident online presence, Kayla struggles to find belonging in her middle school. With her longing for friendship and visibility in peer groups based on popularity and confidence.
Eighth Grade understands the turmoil and fear of belonging and acceptance experienced by young people during their formative school years. While daring the audience to delve into long-buried memories of early adolescence.
Meanwhile, social media sits at the heart of Burnham’s exploration of adolescence while playing a central role in Kayla’s journey. With Burham confidently exploring the newly emerging interface between life in an online and offline world. Highlighting both the stress and comfort social media creates. While bringing his insight of a career kickstarted on YouTube to the cinema screen. However, unlike many other films, Burnham has no intention of indulging in moralistic messages on the place or purpose of social media. Instead, exploring the escapism social media allows for many young people, whether realistic in construct or not. With young people using pictures, videos and likes to portray who they desire to be. While 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 on the audience, the social challenges, and personal conflict inherent in early teenage identity. While reminding us, no matter our age, of the impact our adolescent years have on social development.
The polarised environment of a school, sitting alongside the attempts of teachers, parents and adults to relate to young people. Central to this, the challenging, yet deeply loving relationship between Kayla and her Dad (Josh Hamilton). A man who desperately seeks new ways to communicate and relate to his daughter as she grows into a young woman. While often stumbling in his ability to reach her. Their relationship echoing the challenges all parents face in building new relationships with their children as they develop into young adults.
Equally, performances never seek to trivialise or enhance the emotions of being 13. Providing a nuanced and real interpretation of teenage life. From a cast who understand the myriad of feelings, emotions and sensitivities inherent in the coming of age journey.
Meanwhile, the beauty of Eighth Grade’s screenplay, direction and performances is wrapped by a musical score that ripples with the unconventionality and awkwardness of teenage life. Reflecting its characters and settings impeccably. Ultimately creating one of the finest ‘coming of age’ films in a generation.