SXSW 2018 Review: EIGHTH GRADE

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

Going into this movie, I knew almost nothing about Bo Burnham as a comedian and noticed that this is his first and only narrative feature film so far.  After experiencing this absolutely wonderful and poignant movie, I could only ponder why this talented new filmmaker had never previously written and directed a movie, though he has been working as a standup comedian/musician/singer/rapper for most of the aughts.  Bo Burnham may not be a household name when it comes to comedy, but his film Eighth Grade, with all of its critical and public acclaim could help change that.

Elsie Fisher stars as eighth grader Kayla Day, a sweet and bright young teen who produces and hosts her own YouTube show where she offers advice to other people her age.  The problem is, in the read world, Kayla is actually painfully shy, socially awkward, and rarely can follow her own advice.  As her final year of middle school comes to a close, and the frightening and inevitable high school years loom ahead, Kayla tries her best to break out of her shell and socialize with her classmates.  Things never go as smoothly as she likes, but Kayla remains mostly undaunted and hopes to get her social life in order to be a living example for her limited number of followers.

Written and directed by Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade is a truly amazing coming-of-age movie that hits all the perfect notes comedically and dramatically.  Burnham does an extraordinary job of including some highly relevant themes asnd beats which will definitely resonate with modern teens, as well as adults who understand and remember this very difficult time in their lives.  As someone who was as awkward and painfully shy as Kayla, this movie really hit home.  I often cringed and teared up in my seat as the story and characters took me back to those regretful and often uncomfortable years.

Burnham’s astute realization of growing up in the age of internet, social media, and school shootings is so spot-on, it made me feel somewhat grateful to grow up in simpler times.  Not to be completely misunderstood, I must acknowledge that the movie is a comedy, so the entire affair is not thoroughly cringeworthy and painful.  Burnham and his cast even things out with much heart and intelligently conceived and executed humor.

The enire cast is exceptional too.  In addition to the phenomenal performance by Elsie Fisher, the film also has a laudable turn by Josh Hamilton who portrays Kayla’s loving and doting single  father Mark.  Both Hamilton and Fisher work well together in portraying a father and daughter with a problematic relationship.  Emily Robinson gives a lovely turn as Olivia, a high school student who mentors and befriends Kayla.  The movie also has great work by Catherine Oliviere, Jake Ryan, and Luke Prael.

After thoughly enjoying and appreciating this movie on so many levels, I wish Bo Burnham much success when it hits theaters.  His writing and directing in this freshman film proves that he has the creative chops for some genuinely extraordinary work.  I must highly encourage everyone I know to support this movie and to spread positive word of mouth.  The film does have a disadvantage of being overshadowed by summer blockbusters, but while that typical Hollywod fare is readily available all the time, movies as outstanding as Eighth Grade don’t often get the attention or the box office returns they deserve.

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