A tenderly crafted & sincerely told coming-of-age drama that examines the highs n lows of a generation whose entire self-image revolves around how well they are doing on social media, Eighth Grade paints a deeply empathetic, compassionate & insightful portrait of the everyday struggles of today’s internet-obsessed & smartphone-dependent youth.
The story follows an insecure & introverted teenage girl on the cusp of high school who suffers from anxiety in social situations yet produces video blogs offering life advices. The film follows her around as she navigates through the final days of her eighth grade and goes through a series of emotions, ranging from awkwardness & self-loathing to relief & reinvention.
Written & directed by Bo Burnham in what’s his directorial debut, the film is often understanding of the issues these post-millennials face in this fast-growing & rapidly-changing world where face-to-face human interaction is quickly becoming a lost art. The premise is a simple one but handled with care & honesty as Burnham incorporates snippets of his own life into the plot to give it an authentic vibe.
Through Kayla, the film touches on themes of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, sexuality, consent & adverse effects of heavy social media usage. There is an emotional complexity to all her scenes, whether it’s her deteriorating relationship with her father who himself is clueless about how to get through to her or her timid body language in social situations or the pretence of having it all figured out as evident in her vlogs.
What Burnham is mainly trying to debate here is that despite the comfort of today’s lifestyle and the distractions it offers, which is detrimental in its own ways, the real struggle for this new generation is still very much on the human level and is no different from what their ancestors went through. It’s a known fact that former generation loves to criticise the next one as entitled & lazy but deep down, it’s always the same emotions involved.
While Burnham’s direction is focused and script is appealing, Elsie Fisher is the heart & soul of this story as she articulates Kayla’s stifled emotions & expressions in an utterly convincing fashion and pretty much steals the show. Josh Hamilton ably fills in the role of Kayla’s father and their bonding only gets better as plot progresses. The film isn’t all serious, for there are plenty of laughs in store but there are also few moments that are genuinely discomforting.
On an overall scale, Eighth Grade is arguably the coming-of-age teen flick of 2018 that succumbs to a few genre clichés but remains a captivating ride nonetheless, mostly due to Fisher’s impressive input. Asking for perseverance in the long journey of finding one’s identity, Eighth Grade is a sweet, sensitive, funny, poignant & emotionally resonant feature that’s as beautiful as it is melancholic and is amongst the better films to surface this year. Do not sit out on this one.