An Important Slice of Adolescent Life
In writer/director Bo Burnhamís Eighth Grade, Elsie Fisher delivers a flawless performance as 13-year-old Kayla Day, a teenager paralyzed by an irrational belief that she cannot be herself around her peers -- or anyone else for that matter -- because they could react adversely to her and mercilessly bully her on a routine basis. This is in sharp contrast to her exuberant online persona. Kayla is an intellectual who posts her deepest thoughts on You Tube. At first, it seems these posts are meant for other people, but we soon learn that she makes them for an audience of one -- herself -- all the while constantly floundering trying to follow her own philosophy about life whenever offline.
Kayla relishes the fact that her disastrous middle school career and eighth grade in particular will finally terminate at the end of the week. Against her gut feeling, she makes the colossal mistake of attending her arch nemesis Kennedyís (Catherine Oliviere) pool party. Kaylaís anxiety about how she looks in a bathing suit and how to act around her peers becomes a secondary concern when a self-absorbed Kennedy goes out of her way to mock her for choosing a babyish birthday present, which Kayla should have known Kennedy would have zero interest in receiving.
Meanwhile, high school senior Olivia (Emily Robinson) takes an immediate shine to Kayla after meeting her during an orientation for incoming freshman. Olivia points out that her middle school years were as equally brutal as Kayla's and that she didnít have any real friends until high school.
I really identified with Josh Hamiltonís compassionate performance as Kaylaís father Mark. He portrays this dad as vulnerable and as equally damaged as his daughter. Mark's greatest failure involves not being able to prevent Kayla from continuing to flounder socially. He cannot make Kayla realize that if she displayed the same qualities and ideas that she does online when interacting with her peers, they would readily identify with her.
I agree with filmmaker Burnham when he calls Fisher a rare find. He believes the film would not have worked without her sincere, charismatic, and realistic performance. He has explained in interviews that he gave Fisher complete freedom to create. Burnham also told reporters the actress was involved in his writing process from the start -- often even vetoing scenarios and dialogue that wasnít representative of how a teenage girl thinks, acts, or expresses herself. She also provided some dialogue of her own.
Burnhamís script and directorial debut succeeds largely because of the leap of faith he took with Fisher and his confidence in her ability to guide him through the complicated world of a teenage girl. As a result, he has created characters, scenes, and dialogue that will instantly resonate with both adults and teens.
The MPAA recently slapped Eighth Grade with a profoundly undeserved ďR" rating, which makes it impossible for the intended teenage audience to see his important true-to-life film about adolescence in theaters unless accompanied by someone over the age of 21. The reason? The film contains a controversial scene involving Fisher exploring an aspect of sexuality and more than one use of the F-Word. As a result, Burnham had the filmís distributor rent out multiple theaters in several U.S. states where anyone regardless of age could attend a screening for free for one night only in order to experience for themselves a movie presenting an accurate depiction of adolescence.
(Released by A24 and rated "R" by MPAA.)