Sundance London 2018 Preview - Eighth Grade
Dir: Bo Burnham
Starring Elsie Fisher, Emily Robinson, Josh Hamilton, Missy Yager
Bo Burnham suffered a sudden bout of stage fright, which inadvertently led the stand up to turn his hand to writing and directing his debut movie. We should all be glad he got stage fright, as Eighth Grade is a film that, alongside the likes of The Edge of Seventeen and Lady Bird, can proudly take its place in what is rapidly becoming a new post-Hughesian golden age of the American teen movie.
And what a teen he has found in the form of Elsie Fisher, a distinctly unglamorous looking ordinary girl (yes, she has spots!) who delivers a performance guaranteed to break hearts. She is Kayla, just about to leave middle school, a girl who makes YouTube videos about how to be yourself and how to handle being popular when she is neither and is voted quietest girl in school. Burnham brilliantly captures the contemporary life of teens living their lives on screens – Kayla moves from her videos, to her phone, to her laptop, living in the constant glow of a screen rather than the real world, liking everything in the hope that something will like her back. It brings the film a sadness and melancholy that is balanced by some very real laughs. However, like those other recent teen movies name-checked above, this is a film that deals with the genuine pain of adolescence. Nothing bad happens to Kayla, she is just going through her life and growing up. And that brings more than enough pain with it.
The immediacy of her generation – and the rapid speed it moves on – is beautifully shown through videos Kayla left to herself a mere couple of years before, through her conversation with high schoolers who describe her as from another generation – she was seeing dicks in fifth grade apparently, courtesy of Snapchat.
As Kayla, Burnham has discovered a genuine find in young Fisher, as open and expressive as her videos are guarded and uncertain, she is simply remarkable. As her slightly ill at ease father, Hamilton is also on strong form.
From her first almost sexual encounter, to her first sort of date, to her reaction when she is first asked to hang at the mall, Eight Grade is an utter delight. The fact that it is also often heartbreaking is a testament to Burnham’s potential abilities as a filmmaker. More please!
The Sundance Festival ’18 London runs from May 31 to June 3 - https://spotlight.picturehouses.com/category/sundance-film-festival/
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