Eighth Grade: Gloriously Gucci
Writer/director (and comedian) Bo Burnham has conjured up something special with his film debut, Eighth Grade, a gloriously "Gucci" snapshot of the achingly awkward, cringe-inducing days of early adolescence, a time when bodies are changing and clumsily struggling to find their own way. Wrapped in a very effortless and underplayed package, Eighth Grade is universally relatable, painfully touching, and radiating with love and kindness.
An early YouTuber himself during the pioneering days of the video-sharing website, Bo Burnham initially set out to write a film about the internet and what it feels to be alive right now, which he called "confusing and weird and strange, like I'm out of my depth, and I'm trying to grasp at something, but it's slipping through my hands." And what better metaphor for all of those things than that of the eighth grade?! It's the time when hormones are crawling out of the woodwork, everything is awkward and confusing, and life is changing faster than we can truly comprehend, let alone fully grasp.
I only bring this up because if you think this film is just about an eighth grade girl, you're sorely mistaken. There's a lot of life wisdom below the surface level that directly connects to our time and ourselves, young or old. A lot of this shines through the YouTube videos from Elsie Fisher's character, Kayla Day, that bookend the film and bring it full circle, or any of the conversations with her father, played fantastically by Josh Hamilton.
Kayla's YouTube videos are not just for her "fans" (all of the 10 people — probably her father with multiple accounts — who click like), but they're a way for her to speak directly to herself, almost as if she were learning to self-parent, giving herself advice that we see she does't always take. The way that Kayla feels is not just relatable because we've all been through this rite of passage, but because we still continue to feel those things, even now in our adult life, as we desperately try to find our own way amidst the confusion and rapid technological progression.
This is where Kayla's father, Mark, comes into play. He's this silent observer that tries to actively voice to Kayla what he sees in her but always struggles to find a way to say the words, which is really impossible because he's dealing with a teenager whose only sense of true connection seems to stem from vapid technology (and even that isn't as much of a connection as it appears to be). Just as Kayla's YouTube videos bookend the film, so does Mark's attempts to effectively communicate his feelings to his daughter, something that eventually lands with a surprisingly affecting blow.
Every conversation between the father and daughter is amazing, and like last year's Lady Bird, the father/daughter relationship and dynamic is the glue that holds the film together. However, the true champion of this film is the young Elsie Fisher, who shines like the brightest star and absolutely floored me with her Herculean performance. She quite literally carries the film on her back, and the entirety of its effect hinges on her ability to ground the film, which she does at every turn with flying colors. Bo Burnham even said himself that the film didn't truly take on any semblance of meaning until Elsie came into the picture. This sentiment gets thrown around a lot, but I mean it when I say: there's absolutely no other person who could've done as well as Fisher in this role.
Elsie is not alone here though. Burnham has assembled a fantastic cast of young talent that includes Emily Robinson (as infectious and angelic Olivia), the scene-stealing Jake Ryan (as the awkwardly gut-busting Gabe), and Imani Lewis (as the commanding Aniyah). All of these young performers (and many whom I have not mentioned) have a bright future, and I look forward to seeing what they go on to do later on in their careers.
Overall, Burnham has crafted one of the most effortlessly touching, awkwardly visceral and solidly fantastic films so far this year. Eighth Grade is not always an easy watch (and I mean that in a good way — much in the same way The Square or Force Majeure is not an easy watch), but it's never anything less than entertaining. Aided by Anna Meredith's original score that serves as an overbearing and anxious heartbeat perfectly syncopated to the pulse of our protagonist, the film manages to be an all consuming joy.
Despite how our own eighth grade life may've scarred us, this is a film many of us will want to revisit again and again. Defintitely do not skip out on this gleefully uncomfortable gem!
Rating: 4.5 Snapchat filters outta 5.
What do you think? Did Eighth Grade encapsulate the awkwardness of early adolescents? Did Elsie Fisher floor you? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!