If you had told me when I entered the screening of Bo Burnham’s masterful Eighth Grade that it would trigger the biggest single walkout from a film that I’ve ever seen – I would have found it hard to take you seriously. Eighth Grade is the type of film which comes along very rarely and that manages to do more than simply blend genres but instead goes at them with a bulldozer and smashes any concept of their existence.
Elise Fisher provides a mesmerising, heartbreaking and thoroughly relatable performance as Kayla – a 13-year-old girl who wins the award for “Most Quiet” at the start of the film – and her experiences as she comes to the end of eighth grade whilst experiencing the full spectrum of emotion that comes with early adolescence. The film is anchored in her short vlogs for a YouTube channel with few views and even fewer subscribers and it is these videos that replace what would have in a previous iteration been a secret diary. In a world of social media and oversharing Kayla pours out her heart to an audience of almost no one.
Following a visit to her new school, Kayla falls in with a group of 17-year olds and in them seeks to find some meaning and relationships which she is unable to form with her peers. Although her the four years which separate her and her new friends described in one pivotal as being a “different generation” become increasingly visible and it is more than just the fact that she had Snapchat at age 10. As someone whose adolescence was defined by MSN Messenger, LiveJournal and MySpace; I found what would otherwise be a potentially throwaway line to actually be a perfect encapsulation of how rapidly advancing technology accentuates the divide between two people born in the same decade.
In Eighth Grade though; there is nothing which is done; no line of dialogue, single shot or piece of music that doesn’t count for multiple layers of meaning. In a film that clocks in at just over an hour and a half, Bo Burnham relays a lifetime of learning and tells a story that cuts through with its relatability and contradictory triviality. Given his rise as stand-up comedian and YouTuber it is both shocking and utterly believable that he has been able to pull off the work of art that is this film.
As well as being a perfectly pitched story for our times, it also gives a realistic flipping of that scene from that teen movie franchise that came to define a generation twenty years ago. In a scene that is played both for laughs and concurrently achieves an undertone of repulsion that is in keeping with the films dark parallels.
I won’t say why it is that people walked out; and although I felt at the time that they were justified in doing so on reflection it was a reaction that only vindicated the point which the film was hammering home. The scene itself is utterly gripping and executed in a way as to be in no way exploitative. It is realism in it’s most potent form and the fallout is utterly devastating.
The deepest irony of the film though and perhaps its most ringing endorsement as a film that accurately depicts the life of a 13-year-old was rated R. Excluding the audience for whom it is most important. The irony is because there is nothing explicit in Eighth Grade. There are more than a few “fucks” but there is no sex, no violence and no nudity. The discussions are realistic and if anything the language used has been tempered.
Engaging, hilarious, unsettling and totally damning, Eight Grade is amongst my very top films of the year and makes a compelling case for being in my all-time top-ten.
A certifiable masterpiece.
Dir: Bo Burnham
Scr: Bo Burnham
Cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson
Prd: Eli Bush, Tom Ishizuka, Jamin O’Brien, Scott Rudin, Christopher Storer, Lila Yacoub
DoP: Andrew Wehde
Music: Anna Meredith
Runtime: 94 minutes
Eighth Grade is available on Disc and Digital Download now.