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While puberty has always been a period unavoidably infused with embarrassment, insecurity and confusion, the advent of social media has led to a horrifying increase in all three, providing a whole new digital landscape of shame and ridicule. The very idea of it is enough to give one cold sweats, a squirmy recollection of a pre-Instagrammable teenage life proving all too awkward enough.
In Eighth Grade, the debut film from YouTuber turned comedian Bo Burnham, we’re given an insight into the life of a 13-year-old today, acne and all, complete with the rare highs and many crushing lows. It’s a story told with exquisite care and empathy, avoiding sentimentality without lurching toward cruelty, an unusually even-handed portrayal of a difficult time anchored by an astonishing turn from freshly announced Golden Globe nominee Elsie Fisher.
She plays Kayla, a girl whose confidence illuminates her barely watched vlogs yet struggles to find its way out in real life. Her online persona exists at odds with who she presents in the playground, although she’s determined to turn this around during her final few weeks in middle school. Burnham avoids a simplistic view of social media, plainly showing us the pitfalls without lurching into cautionary sensationalism. The gap between who we present online and who we are in the flesh affects many of us, and what makes Kayla such a universally appealing protagonist is Burnham’s ability to make her social anxiety seem applicable to any viewer of any age. Whether it’s attending a party populated by those she’s trying to impress or being around a boy she’s got a crush on, it’s uncomfortably easy to imagine being in her shoes.
Fisher hauls us along with her, delivering a performance that belies her years and relative lack of experience, both naturalistic yet studied, painful yet buoyant, and she becomes so intertwined with the character, it almost feels like the film was crafted just for her. It’s also remarkably confident and sparingly inventive for a first feature with Burnham interspersing the grounded events with a smattering of nifty stylistic choices, including fantastically overblown bursts of EDM to highlight moments of significance.
Eighth Grade has resonated with so many, right from its Sundance debut through to its deserved inclusion in this year’s awards conversation, and while the trappings of Kayla’s story will undoubtedly age with speed, there are eternal truths here that will remain uncomfortably relevant, with or without a hashtag.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The 50 best films of 2018 in the US: No 4 – Eighth Grade | Film