We’ve been waiting a long time in the UK for Bo Burnham’s debut film Eighth Grade to make its way across the pond to us, but it is finally here. And it is fair to say the hype the film has generated in the US has been justified.
The film follows Kayla in her final week of Eighth Grade. She suffers from social anxiety, and her only real outlet is through YouTube advice vlogs that she makes. As someone who suffers from anxiety what Bo Burnham has created, alongside the performance of Elsie Fisher as Kayla, I have to say that this was one of the most realistic and relatable depictions of anxiety that I have seen in film. It’s such a raw and horribly real portrayal that the film can be hard to watch at times.
But Burnham is still an incredibly sharp comedic mind, and that shines through in Eighth Grade. Underneath all the awkwardness, anxiety, and heart is one of the tightest written comedy scripts in years. It might not be the most laugh out loud funny film you’ve ever seen, but Burnham knows exactly when to balance the awkwardness and reality with moments to just puncture the tension and allow you breath a sign of relief. For a first time filmmaker Burnham comes across as a seasoned pro, able to balance his script masterfully.
As for Elsie Fisher, she’s a star in the making. Her performance as Kayla completely anchors the film. Without huge amounts of plot going on, her performance was integral to creating the story of the film. She captures awkwardness and anxiety of Kayla perfectly, for and delivers her broken dialogue in such a natural way, when the extensive use of ‘like’ and ‘umm’ could come across as heavily scripted. Alongside her Josh Hamilton does a fantastic job playing Kayla’s dad in the film. One scene nearer the end was particularly emotional and powerful, thanks to his incredibly earnest portrayal.
Anxiety and mental health issues aren’t the only major topics that Eighth Grade tackles. Burnham originally found success as a YouTube star before breaking out in the stand up comedy world. So it is no wonder that he has a keen eye for how social media and the massive connection the internet allows has affected people growing up in this age. He doesn’t portray this as something purely negative or positive, but merely shows how it is having a fully rounded effect on our lives. There are things on social media that constantly inflame her anxieties, but she also has an outlet for her creativity and her voice that she struggles to get out in school through her vlogs. It’s a far more realistic and balanced portrayal than many filmmakers without Burnham’s experience would show.
I really hope that Eighth Grade finds an audience in the UK and doesn’t get shrugged off as being too American because of the name. This is an incredibly accomplished work from both Burnham and Fisher, and manages to capture what coming of age in this modern world, particularly if you suffer from anxiety, is really like.