Rated: R for language and some sexual material. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: July 13, 2018 Released by: A24 Films
Bo Burnham (The Big Sick) connects with early teenage angst, perhaps in ways that is an interesting new-age contrast to entries like "Welcome To The Dollhouse" which featured Heather Matarazzo's perpetually teased middle-schooler Dawn Weiner.
A less cynical, rather insightful White Plains-shot Eighth Grade stars Elise Fisher (Despicable Me, McFarland USA among many small and silver-screen credits) and Josh Hamilton (Frances Ha, Manchester By The Sea).
Fisher's successful advance in the business here as the snubbed, sometimes pimply Kayla who tunes out her single dad Mark (Hamilton) for the most part when he tries to strike up a semblance of conversation with her, say, at the dinner table. Burnham has a distinctive handle on someone who doesn't like being labeled "quiet" and does video counseling from her bedroom which isn't easy to follow from a personal standpoint (and is pretty niggling at the outset given her lexicon).
Interactions with boys like Gabe (Jake Ryan) at a affluent classmate's pool bash, not to mention an older junior (Daniel Zolghadri) inviting her to be a bit more open clicks sharply into the social sects and smartphone obsessions. Kayla has the urge to exude her allure which elicit her ideas and way of thinking. Making headway around a campfire does make her realize what her dad is going through to try and raise her.
A mindful burst of an oft-covered experience has the 28-year-old writer/director keying into the little details, but not trying to do handstands as attempted by a character. Under this effective headship Fisher has the cognizance to get through the small talk with something important to say about thirteen-year-olds facing many challenges like Kayla in an enlightening Eighth Grade.
In this edgy film we are constantly uncomfortable along with lead actress Elsie Fisher, who plays Kayla, an eight grader. Making us uneasy with her life is exactly what her fine performance should be doing in this growing up film.
Director, Bo Burnham, shows Kayla with marks on her face when she is under pressure or not secure but when a day works better for her face is clear of the acne which mars her face. Most of the time she is tense and clumsy and when her father attempts to reach out to her, she is not secure enough to reach back.
She is not popular but as most kids her age she wishes she was, and attempts to talk to the mean girls who ignore and taunt her. The most difficult day is spent at a popular student's birthday party. Kayla doesn't look good in a swim suit and is uncomfortable with her body. She walks bent down from her waist and quickly heads into the pool. Fisher makes each of us as unsettled as her character is, she is that effective.
Kayla begins to grow when befriended by an upper class person, Olivia, (Emily Robinson) during her step-up day from eight grade to high school. She is strong enough to reject uncomfortable advances by an older student and that appears to be the beginning of a new Kayla.
Director, Burnham allows us to watch and experience the difficult trek that is her last year of middle school, as she watches information films about her body, accepts rejections, believing what comes in on her cell phone and telling the world about her journey on a blog that ends when she reaches high school.
What could have been a dull experience to view, is a tense difficult to watch skillfully performed work by Fisher who carries us through as if we were back in eight grade attempting to survive.