Written and directed by Bo Burnham (or Mo Mowlam if you’re The Trap), this acclaimed indie follows awkward 14-year-old Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) as she navigates the daily horrors of being a modern teenage girl: social anxiety, peer pressure and that Snapchat filter that turns you into a rabbit.
We’ve seen a surge of films lately about the corrosive power of social media, but where Ingrid Goes West and Timur Bekmambetov’s movies exploited the technology for genre thrills, Eighth Grade is a painfully authentic drama committed to showing real life through the confused filter of youth.
Burnham’s over-earnestness is tempered by his light, sensitive touch and likeable naturalism, populating his debut with characters who look and sound like real people, tripping over words and social situations like a more embarrassed mumblecore. Bumblecore, we’ll call it.
Fisher is raw and relatable in the lead and she’s on screen for the duration (including the character’s deliberately pat YouTube videos), believably portraying the gulf between Kayla’s rabbit-eared selfies and her rabbit-in-the-headlights reality. Credit to whichever casting agent told Bo to select ‘er. Her father (Josh Hamilton) acts as a well-calibrated counterpoint, reacting to Kayla’s muddled defensiveness with the perfect mixture of bafflement and concern.
Eighth Grade is a timely tonic to coming-of-age films too often marked by an aversion to difference (and it’s refreshing how little coming of age she actually does). It offers a perspective seldom seen in drama, making it more relevant than Boyhood and more nourishing than The Breakfast Club.