Do you remember the awkwardness, insecurity and emotions of being 13?
Bo Burnham’s stunning directorial debut Eighth Grade, is here to remind you of early adolescence in all its awkward interaction, tentative steps and humour. 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.
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.
This is a film that understands the inner turmoil and fear of belonging and acceptance experienced by all of us during our school years. Daring us all to delve into our hidden memories and feelings, long since buried by adult experiences.
Social media sits at the heart of Burnham’s exploration of adolescence, playing a central role in Kayla’s journey. Burham explores the newly emerging interface between teenage life in an online and offline world, including the stress and comfort it creates in equal measure. Burnham brings his personal insight of a career kickstarted on YouTube to the cinema screen without judging or engaging in moralistic messages.
This is a film that adeptly explores the escapism social media allows, alongside its replacement of the written private diary with socially accessible content. Young people use pictures, videos and likes to portray who they desire to be, in opposition to the stumbling, insecure and awkward reality of who they currently are. An observation that applies to adults in equal measure, and asks us all whether social media acts is a mere public screen to our real identity and insecurities.
Kayla uses social media to self identify her own developmental needs, her webcam acting as a mirror in building her sense of self.
Away from the more modern world of social media, Eighth Grade 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, and attempts of teachers, parents and adults to relate to young people who have no interest in their opinions, reflects the awkward social constructs of teenage life. Central to this is the challenging, yet deeply loving relationship between Kayla and her Dad. A man desperately seeking new ways to communicate and relate to his daughter as she grows into a young woman; often stumbling in his ability to reach her. The parent/teenage on screen 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 true 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 teenage journey for boys, girls and parents in equal measure. Humour is counterbalanced with fumbled meetings, apprehension and emotion, reminding the audience of the innocence, exploration and desire for change inherent in young people. The films score ripples with unconventionality and awkwardness, reflecting its characters and settings impeccably. While Burnham’s direction allows the film to explore its core subjects without pre-judgment or moral imposition.
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.