Eighth Grade

2019-02-22 06:52
Elsie Fisher is a scene from the movie Eighth Grad


An introverted teenage girl tries to survive the last week of her disastrous eighth grade year before leaving to start high school.


That awkward phase between being a pre-teen and a fully fledged teenager - thinking back on your own time can bring memories of cringe and angst. Hollywood tends to dramatise it to a point where it’s just a silly mishap of adventures in a school setting, but in real life its a time of hell of not feeling comfortable in your own body and struggling to connect with those going through the same changes around you.

Eighth Grade - the last year of middle school in the US and in SA it’s like the first year of high school - is a hyperrealistic look at a girl coping with the anxiety that comes with a generation that has never known a world without the internet. They’ve been exposed to far more in the world - from terrorism to cyberbullying to even sexting at a young age - and us adults sometimes don’t see how this age of social media can amplify all those natural insecurities we have all had.

This film offers a raw view into this world of a modern teenage girl, and while it’s a great educational journey for parents of budding teenagers and even those teenagers themselves, I just don’t know how you’re going to convince the latter to go see it by themselves.

Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is facing her last year of middle school, with no friends but her hopes for high school and her YouTube channel keeping her going. In an effort to connect with someone, she goes out of her way to impress the cool girls and her crush, while her father (Josh Hamilton) tries his best to understand what’s going on with his daughter.

Although Fisher was nominated for Best Actress at the Golden Globes in the Musical or Comedy category, do not expect a teenage comedy. It’s far removed from Edge of Seventeen and while it leans a bit closer to Lady Bird, its comedy does not consist of awkward shenanigans or a slew of wisecracks.

It aims to make the audience uncomfortable - and nothing will prepare you for the emotional intensity of the Truth or Dare scene - to remind them what it was like, and to show those going through the same awfulness that they are not alone. Director and writer Bo Burnham - who is a comedian - based the story on his own experiences with anxiety growing up, and it also explores the realm of consent, mental health in the Gen Z generation and how the internet has changed how the youth learn about their world - poignant when Kayla watches YouTube tutorials from how to do makeup to how to give a blowjob.

Fisher is also a great actress, and it’s not easy to carry the weight of an entire film on such young shoulders. She was spotted through YouTube by Burnham, who urged her to audition, and she is just stunning in her ability to not overact her part and tap into her own experiences, bringing authenticity to the role. Besides Hamilton, who plays a very confused but loving father that is the epitome of dad jokes, Fisher is the only in-depth character, the rest flowing in and out of her life without any character development of their own, but this isn’t to the detriment of the film - instead it keeps the audience focused on Kayla, every flaw and strength and makes them fall in love with her.

As I said, it will struggle to get butts into seats in the South African cinema, specifically because of its indie rawness and the focus on American youth. I for one didn’t feel as invested in the story as I should have, despite being the same age as the director, but I think it might be that I don’t have children this age or it’s been too long ago that I’ve gone through this - but the anxiety of puberty is universal and that drove it home in the end.

Your teenage kids might not go see this on their own, but if you are a parent of a kid going to or starting high school, take them to see Eighth Grade if only for its educational purposes - and perhaps they’ll feel less alone as they head into the scary world of today.

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