- Emma Simmonds
- 28 February 2019
GFF 2019: Elsie Fisher sparkles in Bo Burnham's striking, empathetic coming-of-ager
The highs and lows of an introverted middle schooler are captured with vivacity and sensitivity by filmmaker Bo Burnham in his humane, sometimes hilarious debut. Along with actress Elsie Fisher, he's created a truly unforgettable protagonist in Kayla Day, a teenager whose ability to face her fears whilst in the grip of crippling anxiety is nothing short of heroic.
Kayla's open-hearted optimism can be hard to watch as she tries, futilely, to impress vacuous mean girl Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere) and school stud Aiden (Luke Prael) – who's in actual fact a colossal prat. Her inability to break through and form friendships is in stark contrast to the persona she projects as a vlogger; the tips she gives for real-world confidence are so much easier said than done. Fortunately, her single dad Mark (Josh Hamilton) could hardly be sweeter, exhibiting inexhaustible patience throughout testiness and tantrums.
Anyone who has ever been an outsider or suffered even moderate social unease will find Kayla's predicaments painfully recognisable, but Burnham's film is far from a grind as he spotlights the courage of his endearingly awkward heroine and lets rip with giddy visuals which perfectly capture the way she escapes into social media. Meanwhile, the sometimes wildly expressive score relays the maelstrom of adolescence, both in its excitement and myriad horrors. And, as Kayla, Golden Globe nominee Fisher is simply superb.
Although Kayla's life often sucks, Burnham hints at a better future. There's a kindred spirit in the adorably geeky Gabe (Jake Ryan), who shows the value of her looking beyond flashy friends, while the delightful Olivia (Emily Robinson) – a garrulous high schooler with a heart of gold who takes Kayla under her wing – is a vision of Kayla in a few years, with a lot more confidence. Boasting ample empathy and just enough hope, Eighth Grade is a coming-of-age film to savour.
Screening on Thu 28 Feb and Fri 1 Mar as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2019. General release from Fri 26 Apr.