Bo Burnham's Debut Shines On Every Level
Eighth Grade (2018): An introverted teenage girl tries to survive the last week of her disastrous eighth grade year before leaving to start high school
Every so often, a movie comes along that blows me away on every level. Films that come to mind include Mad Max: Fury Road, Gravity, Moonlight, La La Land, and Phantom Thread. Now you can add Eighth Grade to the list. The stunning debut from Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade takes you on an emotional rollercoaster as you follow the very relatable life of introverted eighth grader Kayla, played by Elsie Fisher. The film flawlessly executes every level of filmmaking, and I found myself hanging on every word and every scene. I instantly connected with the kind but shy Kayla, and I think many of us unpopular kids will see a lot of our daily struggles play out in her life, with a modern twist to top it off. (You had Snapchat in 5th grade???) Undoubtedly the best film of the year so far, Bo Burnham instantly cements himself as one of the best in the business with the very definition of a perfect film.
Since I have absolutely zero complaints to speak of, let's gush about all the things Eighth Grade does right. At the center of this film is an incredibly grounded and intimate performance from its lead, Elsie Fisher. Her performance was reminiscent of Sasha Lane in American Honey, or Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Tangerine. Honestly, this entire film feels directly inspired by Sean Baker. Most filmmakers can only dream about making their characters feel as human as the characters of something like Tangerine or The Florida Project. But that's exactly what Kayla feels like. She is subdued and emotional while being awkward and fun. And COOL. She's written brilliantly by Burnham, and feels very human from start to finish. Fisher's performance is right there with Toni Collette’s terrifying portrayal of Annie Graham in another A24 film, Hereditary, for best performance of 2018 so far. However Fisher's performance comes with added bonus of being a debut lead role for the talented young actress, which to me is all the rationale I need to call it the best performance of the year. Kayla is accompanied by character actor Josh Hamilton, who portrays Kayla's father Mark. Their chemistry is wonderful. I feel like it would be hard to sell the awkward father/daughter relationship, but these two pull it off with ease. Additionally, Hamilton has the most emotionally impactful moment of the film in the form of a monologue reminiscent of Michael Stuhlbarg's devasting monologue in Call Me By Your Name that basically comes out of NOWHERE. Even though you're laughing for most of this film, be prepared to rock the ugly cry before it ends. Just warning you now.
This speech is shot flawlessly through the film's incredible cinematography. Most of this film is shot through Kayla's perspective, (which makes Elsie Fisher's performance that much more demanding) which leads to some very claustrophobic and chaotic shots. There's one shot in particular where Kayla is talking to someone and is pacing back and forth, and the shot feels so dynamic thanks to a colorful background and (I think) a telephoto lens. It flawlessly relates the disorienting feeling Kayla is experiencing in this deliriously joyous scene, and it's one of many sequences that convey the feelings of Kayla in any given moment. Mad kudos to cinematographer Andrew Wehde for the flawless execution here. Speaking of newcomers, we have to talk about the experimental score from Anna Meredith. This score is easily the best score of the 2018, and right there with some of my favorites of all time. Honestly I haven't found a score this groundbreaking since Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor’s score to 2010’s The Social Network, widely considered the most influential score of this decade. Meredith’s wonderful use of synthesizers creates a very modern score, and they layer on top of each other brilliantly. The sound design also hammers the amazing score home. The editing is executed perfectly as well, as the film utilizes YouTube videos from Kayla as voiceovers to create something of a modern montage sequence at various moments. Honestly, for a film that utilizes social media as much as this, I was shocked at how fluid the pacing was in the sequences where Kayla is basically looking at her phone. Sequences that so many other films get wrong, but here Burnham handles them with grace and fluidity.
If you haven't picked up on it yet, I love every aspect of this movie, and have every intention of watching it again and again. We've been extremely fortunate these past two weeks at the cinemas between the best summer blockbuster of the year, Mission: Impossible - Fallout and now Bo Burnham's Eighth Grade, so do make sure you check out at least one of them. This film is so good. I haven't even talked about the story to this point, but it too blew me away. The film starts out as a comedy but around halfway through the second act Burnham veers the story hard to the right and turns it into a tearful drama with some gripping scenes. This 90 degree right turn comes out of nowhere, but it works! It works so well. Seriously, for a debut feature film Bo Burnham brings the poise of not just a seasoned vet, but a AAA level vet, akin to a Paul Thomas Anderson or Damien Chazelle, and delivers the very best film of 2018 so far and my first perfect 10 of the year. You want a good night at the cinemas? Try a double feature of Mission: Impossible - Fallout and Eighth Grade. Have kids? Just watch Eighth Grade. Its brisk 95 minute runtime will ensure you don't have to keep the babysitter for very long, and Burnham's flawlessly executed piece of cinema will certainly prepare you for what's to come in their lives. Heck, take them with you! Just as long as you go see it. It's worth every penny. Gucci!
The Critique: Featuring a breakout performance from Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade puts debut filmmaker Bo Burnham on the map with an intimate, relatable, and emotional take on the traditional coming-of-age drama.
The Recommendation: I think you could guess this one….it's an absolute must-see for all. And take your kids too! This is about as light an R rating that you'll ever see. The MPAA really needs to revamp their ratings system when something like this is rated R while something like World War Z gets a PG-13 rating. Seriously.
The Verdict: 10/10 Perfect
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