That awkward time between the ages,
Not adult and not a child,
One of life’s most stalling stages
Is a source of trauma shared.
Whether normal, shy, or wild,
These are years we all are scared,
Negligent and unprepared,
And yet so fondly reconciled
Once we’ve turned to other pages,
Just a chapter when compiled,
Just a molehill when compared.
MPAA rating: R (for five F-words and a couple sexual situations)
Every now and then, a movie comes along that totally encapsulates a time and place, a cinematic time capsule for future generations to watch when they ask, “What was it like back then?” The most notable such film would probably be Saturday Night Fever for the ‘70s, but Eighth Grade is a time capsule for Generation Z, an excellent coming-of-age story for awkward high-schoolers everywhere, especially those of the 2010s.
Elsie Fisher plays Kayla Day, a girl whose diffident demeanor has left her largely friendless as she goes from middle school to high school. She films vague but encouraging vlog posts about having the self-confidence she lacks herself, and she pines for a boy in class while ignoring her dad (Josh Hamilton) behind the sullen wall of her phone. In short, she’s painfully real, and although her Instagram addiction and overuse of the work “like” can be as irritating as it is in real life, you can’t help but empathize with her desire to be liked amid a sea of academic and online indifference. Fisher is anything but glamorous in this movie, but her natural sensitivity brings great heart to several scenes; plus, her talent is evident from the fact that she’s supposedly much more outgoing than her character.
As I said, Bo Burnham’s feature debut includes quite a few details that add to the film’s snapshot of present-day culture, nods to the dab, the floss, Adventure Time, Rick and Morty, and drills for school shootings. Yet, there’s also something universal to Kayla’s anxiety and desire for belonging that I feel strikes a chord of poignancy with more than just the current youth generation. Not much actually happens, so I could see some naturalistic version of this film being presented with no incidental music, which would make it unnecessarily boring; luckily, an electronic score pops in at ideal moments, and I loved the use of Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” to elevate a web browsing session.
For being R-rated, the film is largely tame, if only they’d left out a couple F-bombs, but there are some uncomfortable moments related to Kayla’s budding sexuality, which do at least stop short when she realizes she’s not ready for such things. Yet, as I said, reality is the film’s greatest strength, and there’s nothing that doesn’t seem very likely to be happening in any number of towns across America. I wasn’t entirely sold on the story until the last quarter, especially a moving scene between Kayla and her dad that has to be one of the sweetest father-daughter moments in film. By the end, even Kayla’s halting videos carry greater meaning than I expected at the beginning. Eighth Grade may have been spurned by the Oscars (though Fisher did get a Golden Globe nom), but there’s a good reason it made AFI’s Top Ten Films of 2018. It’s ultimately one of the most relatable movies in recent years.
Best line: (Kayla’s dad to her) “And if you could just see yourself the way I see you, which is how you are, how you really are, how you always have been, I swear to God, you wouldn’t be scared either.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2019 S.G. Liput
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