Eighth Grade

EIGHTH GRADE,  US, 2018. Starring Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Daniel Zolghadi, Fred Hechinger, Imani Lewis. Directed by Bo Burnham. 93 minutes. Rated

Response to Eighth Grade will depend very strongly on the age of the member of the audience as well is their perspective on the film’s subject: young adolescents, its trials and uncertainties.

It seems that its writer-director, Bo Burnham, used to be on children’s television dramatising some of these issues from a boy’s point of view. Now he tries the girl’s point of view.

For many, it will be hard to sit through, even while admiring the insights of the screenplay, the performances, noting the education issues. And, for older audiences who don’t have direct dealings with children at school, it might well be very irritating. (Yes, youngsters do talk in this way but, regrettably, dialogue full of okay, like, um, cool, totally frequently repeated, is trying to listen to.)

These comments will indicate that it is very much a film from a teenage girl’s point of view, coming to the end of her years in middle school, coming to the end of eighth grade, the prospect of moving to high school. And not only Kayla, but also her friends and those with whom she clashes, both boys and girls.

Elsie Fisher’s performance as Kayla, um, like totally, is absolutely convincing – and she herself, publicity notes, finished her eighth grade just before making this film. She is a rather introverted girl, her mother moving having moved out of the house some years earlier, her earnest father, Josh Hamilton, trying to be as understanding as he can, giving her some room to move, trying to engage her in conversation, to draw out her feelings (and generally failing and even more frequently snubbed by his daughter), sometimes staying in her room, sometimes trying to bond.

In fact, her most constant companion, as with so many of her peers, is her phone, talking, texting, instagramming, earplugs firmly plugged in all the time.

One of the very best days of her life is the excursion to the high school where one of the students there will serve as a companion. Kayla is very lucky to have Olivia, sympathetic, introducing her to friends, texting to invite Kayla to the mail…

It would seem that Kayla has had very little to do with the boys. As with other young girls, she is social-media aware of the implications of sexuality though, in fact, very ignorant. There is a tense scene where the young boy who drives her home makes advances, testing her, very much frightening her.

Kayla is encouraged by her father to be more outgoing – and, the audience is on her side when she is lined up in graduation cap and gown, suddenly leaves her place and goes to the snooty classmate who looks down her – and really tells her off! Kayla is not in irredeemable!!

Elsie Fisher was deservedly nominated for a Golden Globe award. Probably this film is a must for young girls, for anxious and puzzling parents and grandparents. As those not so involved, it is, as was said earlier, not the easiest of films to sit through.

Sony                                            Released January 1st

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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