Eighth Grade film review: Why you should watch Bo Burnham's brilliantly observed coming of age movie

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Thirteen-year-old Kayla (Elsie Fisher) endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school – the end of her thus far disastrous eighth-grade year.

Being 13 is brutal. The painful truth of it is something rarely expressed on screen but 8th Grade  is a brilliantly observed coming of age movie (though it often feels likes a documentary) about socially awkward Kayla without any of the archetypal clichés, gloss or makeover moments. Watching it will likely leave you relieved those teen years are just a memory.

At home Kayla,13, makes upbeat YouTube advice videos about how to be confident, but it’s a persona totally at odds with her life at school, where she is a quiet nobody. She moves through the hallways alone, scrolling past all the parties she’s not invited to. Elsie Fisher, a relatively unknown actor, is wonderful as Kayla - she walks through the world with her shoulders hunched in, her arms covering her body, trying to take up less, less, less space. 

Eighth Grade: Kayla makes upbeat YouTube videos about how to be confident

However Bo Burnham, the 27 year old, male director, is unflinching in how close he gets to his subject, empathetically showing her acne covered skin and nervous laughter. He is adept at creating scenes that make you feel prickly and uncomfortable to watch – but that are important to endure. 

Kayla craves male attention and it’s horrific to watch as she is co-erced into a game of truth and dare by an older boy in the back of a car and stammers her way through his intrusive questions about how far she’s gone. It’s a very real depiction of the power imbalances in relationships. 

But there are also moments of pure joy, particularly when Kayla meets Olivia an older high school girl and is swept into her “awesome” world and the moment she realises her dad (Josh Hamilton) sees her for who she truly is.

This is the sort of film I needed to watch at 13 and at 38; a thought provoking and deeply enjoyable exploration into the struggle to connect and how vital it is.

Eighth Grade is in cinemas now  

Images: A24

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