Film review - Eighth Grade

A scene from Eighth Grade
A scene from Eighth Grade

Bo Burnham's Eighth Grade is, in actuality, a horror movie.

By technicality, it is a coming-of-age dramedy; but if you have a beating heart, it contains a greater horror than The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead and Up's opening 10 minutes combined: the feeling of being powerless.

Frequently, our wonderful lead either does something dumb or endures someone else's dumbness, with Cringe, Anxiety and Trepidation being but three of the demons haunting her, all leaving the audience powerless to stop them; ultimately making this particular horror-fest startlingly effective.

We follow teenage vlogger Kayla (a hauntingly vulnerable Elise Fisher) during her final two weeks of Eighth Grade (Year 9), including her quest for love (love-at-thirteen is love-for-life, obviously), the fight against dad-ness (that cringe is self-explanatory) and the attempt to survive in an era where one vaguely off-center selfie could bring down the Roman Empire ... let alone a teenage girl's social status.

What this film elegantly reflects is the teenage struggle, pitting the desire for love and the need of friendship against the angst of cringy parenting and the unholy fear that almost everyone (above the age of 10, once all hope is lost) obeys: the compulsive need to not-stand-out.

Blissfully, life-sucks isn't the sole directive, and some moments, scenes and recurring gags are outright hilarious, and some darker notions make you laugh even though you really (really!) shouldn't.

But once viewed deeper, this is a film about overcoming anxiety and achieving self-love, with the former being a plague amongst modern youths and the latter being less common in today's society than a Leprechaun riding a unicorn riding a rainbow ... on fire.

Kayla's relationship with her endlessly benevolent father (played by a marvellously sympathetic Josh Hamilton) serves as the film's heart and soul, balancing the themes of anxiety (from parental embarrassment) and self-love (from one truly 'God-dammit-movie-stop-making-me-cry' scene) beautifully.

On one hand, you hate her for the borderline-emotional-abuse she throws his way. But on another, she is a teenager. And teenagers, for all their flawlessness, are kinda renowned for uber-toddler-tantrums-over-the-tiniest-little-insignificant-trivialities (hey, at least I am self-aware) - so it is kind of understandable, as awful as that sounds.

Everything is expertly edited together with the poetic framing device of Kayla's YouTube channel, with the irony in her messages - including cat-poster-classics 'Be You' and 'Be more Confident' - being that she doesn't follow them herself: which is just brilliant character writing, and yes I am aware I am gushing over a film about depression and anxiety.

Actually, I don't care about that sounding insane - I'm gonna heed Kayla's advice and proudly proclaim that I absolutely adore this gem of a film.

Calculating in its gut-twisting emotional simplicity with its, at times, gut-busting hilarity, I take no qualm in calling it a film-making triumph.

It's a beautiful mirror image of teenage culture, with a buffet helping of consent, social-media obsession, identity, anxiety, labelling, friendship, love, acceptance, bullying and God only knows what else Bo Burnham has crammed into this brilliant little movie on the side.

All the performances are stand-outs and all the beats are true to life. The soundtrack is flawless, the cinematography is delicate and the pacing is absolutely controlled: honestly, I absolutely adore this film. And until the Sonic movie (just look at them legs!) in November, I think my film-year has officially peaked.