Eighth Grade: An Anthem for the Awkward | Sundance Film Festival

by - Tuesday, November 20, 2018

photo via: IMDb

Remember looking like this? I certainly do.

I finally got to see Bo Burnham's feature directorial debut yesterday. Eighth Grade had been at the top of my "to watch" list for a while and it did not disappoint. 

The story follows Eighth Grader Kayla Day in her final week of middle school. She's played remarkably by Elsie Fisher who brings every inch of her character to life. It's such a full bodied performance from someone so young from the hunched shoulders to the lack of eye contact with other characters. She looks and behaves like a real 14 year old as do her peers which makes this film one of the most realistic of its kind.

The film made a lot of noise at Sundance this year, winning the Audience Favourite award in London and yet it still has no official theatrical UK release date. I have no idea why distribution companies aren't working harder to thread this out to a wider audience but I hope 2019 will help that movement, perhaps if it picks up any of the multiple Independent Spirit Awards it is nominated for.

Bo Burnham deserves every inch of credit he's getting for this film. I've partially read through the first version of the script and it's slightly different to what we see on screen but I was hugely impressed by the language and from what I can see most of the awkward filler words like the "um... yeah... like" were often scripted. In an interview with Vulture he mentions media often features younger leads who "have this ability to speak in a way that's suspiciously similar to the screenwriter's ability to speak" and while I don't believe in discrediting the fact that teens can sometimes be incredibly articulate, let's face it... most of us at 14/15 years old couldn't get a sentence out without using like at least 5 times... I still struggle with that now at 22!

Snapchat and Instagram are probably the two biggest social medias for people who are currently navigating the school system. While I was in high school the growing platforms were twitter and tumblr which are mostly text based websites so it was about SOUNDING like you were interesting and unique, not looking that way which is something Burnham explores throughout Eighth Grade, the idea that there's two versions of yourself in this generation; you online and you in real life and how the two aren't necessarily that far apart.

There's a wonderful moment where Kayla is walking back to her bed after doing her hair and make up, her body stiff so as to not mess up her masterpieces as she gets back into bed and takes a pic on snapchat captioned "just woke up like this!" it's a great little addition to the opening of the film that just instantly throws you into the world of "selfie culture". 

There's a documentary like quality to the film with the camera not always being locked off and moments that feel like we should not be present. In fact, Kayla doesn't speak a lot in the first section of the film, it's a lot of the world moving around her and seeing how things look from the outside before getting inside of her mind. I love that we see a girl who's quiet but is still interesting and kooky and creative. Awkwardness and quietness are often parodied and contrived but every part of the performance is honest and they're not devices used to judge Kayla, but instead they are used to understand her. 

Every time something I'd done as a teen happened throughout the film I wrote it down and I can tell you now, the list is long. Perhaps my favourite of them all was the moment Kayla is sat in a room separate from all her peers at a pool party on the phone to her dad just begging him to come and get her but basically bartering with him at the same time by insisting the party is over and not to come inside, just call when he arrives. I remember avoiding telling my parents I was invited to parties just so they wouldn't force me to go! 

It's a wonderful anthem to the awkward in an ever-changing time of what it means to come of age in a digital generation. Even the payoffs of this movie are awkward and not entirely satisfying because let's face it, your teenage years definitely are not something you get to plan!


Until next time

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