Card games are cool and don’t let
anyone tell you otherwise especially the ungrateful child given one by our new BFF Kayla (Elsie Fisher). For you see, many of us pre-social media kids didn’t have the luxury of Snapchat filters, fast-paced internet, and vlogging those youngsters do now she card games were as rock ‘n’ roll as it got. What has happened in those years has changed the world forever and it’s in that new dawn that comedian Bo Burnham’s excellent debut feature nestles.
The aforementioned Kayla is an eighth grader in middle school coming to the end of her final year before the big move to high school and she isn’t deemed cool by the self-named cool kids but in fact, she’s smarter and indeed ice-cool in how she navigates her day-to-day life. School at such an age can be a horrid, unpredictable chore at the best of times but there’s no denying that with Burnham embracing every nuance, every choice with refreshing realism. In a world where likes, followers, and views are the status quo for the popular kids, it’s made even more troublesome for those who aren’t “wake up like this” camera ready but Kayla has a heart and soul greater than they or even she knows, and for the challenges of her teenage years she is more prepared and capable than any of those around her.
What follows is a beautifully measured and assured debut from Burnham who is going to have a pretty stellar career if his follow-ups are anything like this one. There’s real thought here, real truths that some movies of this ilk will shy away from but Burnham tackles them head on, bringing a pathos and realism that others don’t have. And there are laughs too, some genuinely funny moments and some that are excruciatingly awkward, but all of them have a grounded quality that makes them work. Sure it follows the tropes of typical Sundance fils of this nature but it’s under the surface where the film’s success lies and it’s a refreshing joy to be hold.
Its greatest success is Fisher, who is utterly miraculous in the lead and just the tip of the iceberg for her acting career and should be celebrated with countless acting awards for sure. Given that a lot of her dialogue comes from her own thoughts as she records them to send into the YouTube ether, it could have all become a bit stilted but Fisher’s mature, natural instincts are as laid bare as the story around her and she excels at every single turn.
While there are some moments that feel a little familiar, writer/director Burnham navigates them all with a wisdom that brings a new look on such tropes. Led by Elsie Fisher‘s dynamite portrayal, Eighth Grade is a wonderful piece of work that both celebrates and questions teenage life in 2018. Now where are my Top Trumps – these kids don’t know what they’re missing…
Scott J.Davis | [rating=4]
Comedy | USA, 2018 | 15 | 2nd June 2018 | Sundance London 2018 | Dir.Bo Burnham | Josh Hamilton, Elsie Fisher, Emily Robinson | [Buy Tickets]