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Five Cent Cine At Home: Eighth Grade

If you've got a pre- or early-teen in the house, or on FaceTime, or want to re-live those years that make you squirm, "Eighth Grade" is perfect.

Streamer of the Week…

Available: Streaming on Amazon Prime; for rent or purchase on Amazon, Redbox, YouTube and elsewhere; see Just Watch here.

Anxious Youth

Director Bo Burnham, in his first feature film, vividly captures the unrelenting anxiety of the early teenage years in “Eighth Grade.” Elsie Fisher, 14 at the time of filming, is captivating as the introverted and unhappy Kayla Day, about to graduate from eighth grade.

Kayla opens the film making one of her low-key, thoughtful advice videos, appropriately focused on “being yourself,” which is the last thing Kayla is or can be. Facing the camera straight on, with a round, clear, open face, she exudes cuteness and sincerity. Soon after, she’s seen as her real self, as her iPhone screen highlights her blotchy complexion, and her social interactions reveal her insecurities.

The viewer cringes with Kayla when she is voted “Shyest” of the eighth-grade class, even as her heart pounds as she follows “Best Eyes” (Luke Prael) sexily walking to receive his award. The girl most “out” of the crowd desperately wants to be part of the “in crowd,” epitomized by this dark-eyed sex object.

Invited by a mother to her in-crowd daughter’s pool party, Kayla reluctantly dons a one-piece swimsuit that shows off her too-pudgy body and slumping shoulders. She literally squeezes through a sliding door to get out to the pool, where she stands at one end, only her face showing above the water. There she meets a fellow outcast, Gabe (a precocious Jake Ryan), looking a lot like a young teen version of Dustin Hoffman’s Ben Braddock in the pool scene from “The Graduate” (1967).

It’s astounding that a 14-year-old can be this good at making one relive the high anxiety of those teen years.

Most of the time the camera is focused on Kayla’s face. Fisher is riveting. It’s astounding that a 14-year-old can be this good at making one relive the high anxiety of those teen years. She seems more authentic than even Saoirse Ronan in “Lady Bird” (2017).

Kayla is always on-screen, and the secondary characters remain very much secondary. Kayla’s only parent is Dad (Josh Hamilton), who is overly therapeutic, earnest, understanding, and tolerant to a fault, and—perhaps not the intent of director Burnham—cloying. Dad functions here as Kayla’s straight man, a foil for her emotional turmoil. There’s no backstory to why Mom left, just an empty chair at the dinner table (spatial relationships are important to the film). There are no helpful teachers or counselors. Kayla has no buddy. She’s left to her real self and her fantasy video self.

A ray of hope intrudes when Kayla “shadows” a high-schooler for a day. The night before, she prays to God to give her “one good day”—and she gets it. The high-schooler (Emily Robinson) treats her with respect—albeit over-the-top and somewhat undeserved (“you’re so cool” …” you’re so cute”)—and invites her out with her peers. That leads to an uncomfortable (for Kayla and the audience) almost-sex scene. Along with a banana trope, that’s the closest the film gets to that subject.

The emotional heat she produces approaches the fear one feels in a horror film—for almost the entire 90 minutes.

At the end, Kayla makes yet another video, demonstrating her resilience and her faith once again in her “hopes and dreams.” But mainly the film makes us feel her pain. The emotional heat she produces approaches the fear one feels in a horror film—for almost the entire 90 minutes.

Burnham captures the essence of these barely-teenagers with teen-speak (“like…” “hmmm”) and 24/7 social media, demonstrating how different they are from older generations. In one scene, Kayla is a fifth wheel in a group of four high-schoolers meeting at the mall food court. Not only do they converse rather than stare at screens, but one of them asserts that Kayla, at most three years younger than they are, is a “different generation,” because she started using Snapchat in fifth grade.

Like the classic ‘Pretty in Pink’ (1986), it may stand the test of time.

Burnham planned to reveal the social media savvy of his characters by having them use Facebook. But his star told him, “Nobody uses Facebook.” He didn’t, and put that line from his astute young actress in the film. That’s just one of many good decisions Burnham made in writing and directing one of the best teen films of recent years. Like the classic “Pretty in Pink” (1986), it may stand the test of time.


Date: 2018

Director: Bo Burnham

Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Jake Ryan, Emily Robinson, and Luke Prael.

Runtime: 93 minutes


With movie theaters closed, Five Cent Cine is shifting gears. “2 film critics” will continue our usual reviewing schedule of about 3 movies per month, now labeled Five Cent Cine At Home, with all of those films available streaming or for rent or purchase. Each review will list (at the top) the source(s) for you to access the film in your own living room or bedroom.

In addition, we’ll be posting a “Streamer of the Week,” a review from our catalogue (more than 110 reviews dating to mid-2016) of a film available for streaming—a way to revisit a film you’ve already seen or to decide you would enjoy.


Also see reviews on…

The Traitor (Il Traditore)

Free Solo

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Sorry to Bother You

Midsommar

Hidden Figures

Ford v Ferrari

Captain Fantastic

First Cow

Seberg

Ordinary Love

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Uncut Gems

Les Misérables

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Bombshell

1917

Little Women

Marriage Story

Queen & Slim

The Irishman

Roma

Cold Brook

Jojo Rabbit

Pain & Glory ( Dolor y Gloria)

Joker

Parasite

Downton Abbey

Ad Astra

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

The Goldfinch

Good Boys

Written by 2 Film Critics

2 Film Critics

William Graebner is Emeritus Professor of History, State University of New York, Fredonia, where he taught courses on film and American culture. He is the author or co-author of 11 books and more than 50 scholarly articles, including essays on “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” and zombie films as they relate to the Holocaust. Dianne Bennett, the first woman to head a large U.S. law firm, is a retired U.S. tax lawyer.

Dianne and Bill were early and passionate attendees at the Toronto Film Festival, and today enjoy the film scenes of Los Angeles, Rome, London, and Buffalo, New York. They began reviewing films for the Rome-based website “TheAmerican/inItalia” in 2016, have maintained a blog on Rome for a decade, and published two alternative guidebooks to the Eternal City. They still can’t resist going to the movies, not to mention the ensuing discussions, sometimes heated, over a bottle of Arneis at the nearest wine bar.

​And that's just the beginning of our reviewing process. For one or two hours we discuss the film, as one of us takes notes. The notetaker transcribes the notes and prints two copies. Dianne or Bill (usually depending on who had the most compelling understanding of the film, or who was most taken with it) writes the first draft of the review--supposedly taking into account the views of the other--which is followed by 3, 4, or even 7 more drafts. At some point, sometimes days later, when we're both comfortable with the result (or accepting of it, anyway), it's done.

https://www.2filmcritics.com

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