Eighth Grade

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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In this age of YouTube, blogging, texting, sexting, tweeting, and friending, I’m surprised that every teen doesn’t share her or his coming-of-age story. The latest one, a debut film by Bo Burnham, introduces us to Kayla Day, an eighth-grader trying to survive her disastrous final week of middle school.

It’s worth the time it takes to get to know Kayla (1 hour 34 minutes, to be precise).

Although Kayla is awkward around others, she posts motivational videos on YouTube about confidence and self-image, a vlog that get almost no viewers. At school she struggles to make friends but is voted “Most Quiet.”

She suffers an anxiety attack at a pool party, sings karaoke to her own humiliation, has a sexually confusing encounter with a boy she has a crush on, has a sexually confusing encounter with a senior, is embarrassed when she catches her dad spying on her in the mall. Typical teen stuff.

When she opens up a time capsule that she left for herself in the sixth grade, she can’t believe how different the future has turned out.

“Eighth Grade” is currently schooling audiences at Tropic Cinema.

When BO Burnham found out the MPAA had given his film an R rating, he refused to edit the film down to a PG-13 rating. “It didn’t feel like our responsibility to portray a reality that was ‘appropriate’ for kids, but rather to portray the reality that the kids are actually living in,” said Burnham. “We weren’t going to cut anything.”

Burnham’s decision paid off. Most moviegoers comment on how “super-relatable” they find this “candidly witty and honest film” to be.

One viewer remarked, “I have never related to a character more than I did to Kayla. I found myself crying multiple times because it brought up intense emotions. Burnham deals with the awkwardness of that age with comedy while exploring the deeper themes during that period.”

Another said, “The film touches on the ideas of insecurity, hormones, fitting in, and everything in between.”

Still another said, “I’ve never felt so truly connected emotionally to a film, beat by beat, as I did watching this work of art. I’ve also never seen something that so thoroughly and brilliantly spoke about anxiety and the issues related to it. Bo Burnham proved with this, his first cinematic offering, that he is truly an artist and one of the great voices of his … generation.”

All of these observations hinge on the outstanding performance of 15-year-old Elsie Fisher. You’ve heard her voice as Agnes in the first two “Despicable Me” animated comedies. But here she gets dramatic in a movie that will “make you laugh, make you cry, and take you back to when you were in eighth grade.”

Email Shirrel: srhoades@aol.com

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