Growing up is hard to depict on film. A portrayal of growing up today is even more of an uphill battle since any and all pop culture references necessary for the film will be irrelevant by the time it comes out. And yet Bo Burnham has managed to create a movie with a story that we can all relate to, at least for now. Yes, some of the sayings and social media networking will get dated quickly. But it does illustrate the present to an embarrassing, uncomfortable, cringy and yet realistic degree.
Eight Grade is directed by Bo Burnham, a young artist, comedian and actor that now can add director to his resume. His film portrays the last week in middle school (eight grade in the US) for Kayla (Elsie Fisher) who you will undoubtedly identify with as she navigates the anxiety and awkwardness of those early years. Don’t expect the sophisticated dialog and perfect joke setups of a teen angst show of the CW (probably a dated reference by the time I click on publish), instead think of how YOU sounded when you first tried to make friends in eight grade.
This is not a slick production in which the dialog seems to click perfectly and the laughs are non stop. This is the stunted fails of a young generation trying to behave less like a kid and more like the wise-cracking youngsters about to go into high school. The result is a lot of stuttering, whispering, failed jokes, incomplete phrases, people talking over each other and it’s all combined with the readily available technology of a short attention span youth that has no idea what they’re doing. The real humour comes from the familiarity of the constant tripping over your tongue.
Is it pure cringe? Yeap. It’s not necessarily played for laughs but it is there. Kids can be really cruel, materialistic and self-absorbed and Kayla is… none of those things. She’s one of those kids that believes in being nice and would love it if people were nice back to her, but as it happens from the perspective of an eight-grader, the opposite happens. There’s grown up teachers in the background trying to be cool by using outdated viral references without a clue.
There’s one adult character that stands out. You feel empathy for Kayla’s Dad (Josh Hamilton) who wants to relate to his daughter without turning into a nuisance but ends up getting her mad all the time. He tries the hardest to relate to her, even to the point that you can’t help but wonder if Kayla doesn’t realize that his Dad is on her side. Fortunately they do have glimpses in which they let their guard down so when Kayla really needs her Dad, you know he’s going to be there for her.
Kayla will end up having a glimpse of what the future holds when she meets Olivia (Emily Robinson) who is her guide on a high school tour. Although Kayla will gain access to a level of friendship that she’s almost never known, she also will get exposed to hanging around with older kids. Unfortunately, growing up is not without its perils because there are creeps at every age.
Highly recommended for everyone who’s grown up, but several people might be expecting mainstream comedy/drama and find themselves with all too real scenario. Due to the cursing, this gets a PG rating. Some parents might decide against bringing kids to this one, I’m afraid. It is too bad, because although cringe and humour and awkwardness might make you squirm on your seat, you will recognize all those things. It’s one of the most honest portrayals about a coming of age story that I’ve seen committed to film.
That will do for now.