In 2018, Bo Burnham’s coming-of-age tragicomedy enchanted EIGHTH GRADE Film lovers from all over the world – only in this country did the masterpiece remain hidden from many due to its lack of a theatrical release. That could now change, because the film will be available on Netflix from February 5th. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Eighth Grade (USA 2018)
13-year-old Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is a loner. Nevertheless, she mostly spends her free time making motivational videos for YouTube, in which she portrays herself as a popular, adventurous girl with lots of friends. Now she is facing her last year of middle school, which she has to somehow survive in order to finally be able to attend high school. But it’s not easy being a teenager from the suburbs…
Ever since former US President Barack Obama declared the coming-of-age tragicomedy “Eighth Grade” one of his favorite films of the year at the end of 2018, he gave Bo Burnham’s debut as a director and screenwriter an immense boost in popularity. But the independent film, which cost just two million US dollars, delighted audiences and journalists not only in its country of production. The portrait of an outsider named Kayla who was about to go to high school, which was so outstanding because of its authenticity and its empathy for the psychological lives of teenagers, found its fans around the world and traveled from one film festival to the next. In United Kingdom, for example, it stopped off at the Munich Film Festival. But in this country of all places, the hype surrounding “Eighth Grade” was largely limited to the film-centric internet bubble, which the indie pearl has been able to watch as VOD on common streaming portals since May 2019. But perhaps the film – like so many others before it – is now experiencing a long overdue second spring, because “Eighth Grade” will be available on Netflix from February 5th. And therefore has a real chance that the general public will finally fall in love with him and his leading actress Elsie Fisher.
A large part of Kayla’s (Elsie Fisher) life takes place on the Internet.
The coming-of-age film genre – i.e. stories that tell the story of how one or more people grow up – has produced a wide range of films. The works of various directors sometimes tell stories from the middle of entire social groups (“Kids”, “Mid90s”), sometimes about outsiders (“Maybe Better Tomorrow”, “Very Far Back”), sometimes about more extroverted contemporaries (“The Middle of the World”, “Lady Bird”). And from Andrew Largeman, the main character in “Garden State,” to Amy and Molly from “Booksmart,” every generation has its very own CoA heroes who represent them through the trials and tribulations of growing up. Elsie Fisher (“City of McFarland”) alias Kayla Day now belongs in this illustrious circle of charismatic film role models. Her portrayal of an introverted young girl who only shows her extroverted streak in self-filmed YouTube videos and otherwise strolls through her own life and the lives of those around her largely unnoticed is a true sensation. According to her own statements, Fisher, who is much more social in real life, finds the right tact to draw her Kayla as shy and reserved and with a certain respect for her classmates, but never making her a forced oddball. Kayla is not bullied or victimized – “Eighth Grade” is not one of those typical “victim stories.” This girl, who always looks a little shy, is simply one of the quiet kind.
“Elsie Fisher finds the right tact to draw Kayla in a shy, reserved manner, but never make her a forced nerd. Kayla is not bullied or harassed. This girl, who always looks a little intimidated, is simply one of the quiet kind.”
With “Eighth Grade,” Bo Burnham wanted to direct a film that was as close as possible to the character he portrayed and to the reality of his audience’s life. From this consequence he developed the character traits, but also the external appearance of his protagonist, whose small flaws such as acne pimples or a body figure that does not correspond to the beauty ideal set by society at some point complete the image of a “girl next door”. It wasn’t even Burnham’s plan to make such observations a substantive topic. But since none of these typical Hollywood beauties were cast for the role of Kayla, her existence as an outsider at her school seems all the more understandable. “Eighth Grade” isn’t about big dramas like finding the right companion for the prom, arguments with your best friends or constructed love triangles. Instead, the script, written by Bo Burnham himself, moves through calm, everyday observations that always live up to his claim of wanting to direct a film at the eye level of its audience. Not least because he and his cameraman Andrew Wehde rely on completely unadulterated imagery (“Imperfections”) have internalized the fears and worries as well as the world view of their main character colored by them and can thus provide a maximally subjective view of what is happening.
Kayla would like to be a little more like the other girls at her school…
Symptomatic of this is a scene in which Kayla reluctantly attends the birthday of a classmate who is having a pool party in her own garden. The discomfort that can be seen in Kayla’s body language at any time collides with the lifestyle of the other guests, which is characterized by flawlessness and self-confidence. Together with Kayla, the camera retreats further and further until a friendly conversation with a boy lures Kayla out of her reserve. But by the time the young girl dares to jump into the pool, she is immediately overwhelmed – too many people, i.e. arms, legs and entire bodies, are cavorting in the water, blocking her field of vision and disorienting the young woman, which she says hoc robbed of their newfound self-confidence. Andrew Wehde consistently films this scene through Kayla’s eyes until the audience can hardly penetrate the chaos. In what is probably the strongest moment of the entire film – and “Eighth Grade” is not short on highlight scenes – the plan to bring us closer to the inner pubertal restlessness of a teenager comes to perfection. But it doesn’t always take a literal push into the deep end to understand Kayla’s reality. In addition to Kayla herself, her surroundings also receive a no less detailed description.
“Instead, the script, written by Bo Burnham himself, moves through calm, everyday observations that always live up to his claim of wanting to direct a film at the eye level of its audience.”
In “Eighth Grade” there are no “the cool” and “the uncool,” no bullying school bully, no radiant beauty queen. Since Bo Burnham never wanted to depict the school cosmos again, but rather to focus entirely on Kayla’s world, the drawing of her environment is free of such pigeonholes. The people relevant to the girl are all more than just convenient stereotypes. For example, there is her worried father (Josh Hamilton, “Dead girls don’t lie.”), who self-sacrificingly takes care of his daughter as a single parent, but is hardly able to penetrate Kayla’s closed facade. “Eighth Grade” not only takes her concerns seriously, but also his, which culminates in a heartbreaking conversation in the second half of the film in which father and daughter get closer for the first time in many months. “Eighth Grade” is full of these small, tender moments that seem to turn Kayla’s world upside down at the moment they appear. And it’s best to include ours at the same time.
Conclusion: Bo Burnham’s coming-of-age tragicomedy “Eighth Grade” is full of love for its characters, thoroughly authentic and, not least thanks to the outstanding Elsie Fisher, one of the best films that have ever addressed the topic of growing up.
“Eighth Grade” will be available to stream on Netflix from February 5th and is currently available as VOD on iTunes, among others.