By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is an absolute pleasure. I doubt there has honestly ever been such a sensitive and delightful teen coming-of-age comedy that’s managed to sum up those years so accurately. Also, Kayla listens to Enya.
Shy eighth-grader Kayla (Elsie Fisher) tries to survive that final week of hell before high school. Boys, phones, pool parties and pimples – we follow Kayla as she comes to terms with her insecurities and tries to put herself out there.
Eighth Grade is honestly one of the best teen movies I have seen in a very long time. Gone are the days when sickly sweet American staples like She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You actually feel like real portrayals of high school.
This film is an honest and straight-forward tale of a typical teenage kid and how she deals with all the pressures you’d expect a 13-year-old to face, including bitchy classmates, peer pressure, parents and Instagram. It feels incredibly modern and serious at times, but it’s dealt with in a fairly light and adventurous way – the soundtrack is great too. One of my favourite moments is Kayla sitting in bed scrolling her Instagram feed with a broken iPhone screen, while cranking Enya’s ‘Orinoco Flow’ – that scene alone, sums up the entire film.
It never feels like a lecture, even though it could actually be a great one to show teens at school. Nothing about this film feels pretentious. Elsie Fisher, who got her start in TV series Medium, is absolutely fantastic. Kayla is a wonderfully human character with relatable flaws and her general awkwardness, especially at that terrifying and hormonal pool party, are just so real. I doubt you’ll see another teenage performance worthy of such praise this year.
There’s also wonderful chemistry between Kayla and her father Mark (Josh Hamilton), a goofy single-parent who tries to connect with his daughter over cringe-worthy dinner conversation that we’ve all been through at some point or another in our teenage lives.
As Kayla comes to terms with herself through self-discovery vlogging videos (with all the Instagram filters that you’d expect from a teenage girl), she gradually changes from the ‘Most Quiet’ award girl into something much more self-aware and semi-confident. The videos also work as wonderful ‘post-it notes’ to break the film up a bit, and teens will no doubt dig that medium in the film as well – it seems that every kid want to be a YouTube star these days, right?
Eighth Grade is fantastic, and again, I do think it should be shown in classrooms all over the world. It’s just so accurate. It feels like a John Hughes film for the age of Instagram. Even ’80s teen icon and Hughes regular Molly Ringwald is a fan.
Check it out Prague International Film Festival Febiofest this week.