Directed by Bo Burnham
Bo Burnham’s feature debut, “Eighth Grade”, is probably the most spot-on coming-of-age drama made recently. To better limn an important slice of a teenager’s life, the 28-year-old American director employs an attractive soundtrack, pelts the narrative with wry tones, and observes the over-tech reality the world is immersed in without critical judgment.
Thirteen-year-old Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) is a brilliant video maker - her motivational topics revolve around the self-confidence and image - but she is so cringingly shy at school that she was voted ‘the quietest student of the year’ in the annual academic polls. Online, she gives the impression of being super extrovert, but in fact, she’s very lonely and prone to panic attacks, regardless of the huge efforts to socialize and make friends. She lives with her responsive single dad, Mark (Josh Hamilton), who genuinely worries about his daughter. However, he has a weird timing to interact with her, creating humoresque if embarrassing situations.
Like many other kids of her age, Kayla hides her acne pimples behind a thick layer of makeup. She also has a crush on Aiden (Luke Prael), a popular schoolmate who casually asks her if she gives blowjobs after she had told him she was saving dirty photos for her upcoming boyfriend. Of course, smartphones are everywhere here, with all the anxiety it causes, anchoring the story in the present, but there are other curious factors and situations, like a class with a military man who explains the eighth-graders how they should react if a massive shooting occurs.
Kayla is unexpectedly invited to the birthday party of a disdainful classmate, Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere), and connects with the latter’s awkward and living-in-his-own-world cousin, Gabe (Jake Ryan), who compulsively dives in the pool while wearing a scuba mask. Still, nobody would believe they have something in common. In addition to this agreeable surprise, the first contact with high school is positive, even before the nightmarish eighth grade come to an end.
The script, smartly and carefully written by Burnham (a comedian and actor who played the title character of TV series “Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous”), carries all the sensibility to depict Millennials in a way that is simultaneously funny, unnerving, miserably heartbroken, and honest. It definitely rang true to me.