Arts

Eighth Grade an exquisite film that eloquently captures anguish of the 'wonder years'

Elsie Fisher gives a natural, unselfconscious and achingly funny performance in Eighth Grade
Damon Smith

LOOKING back over the battlefield of my schooldays from the safe distance of mellowing middle age, I'm reminded of tiny, beautiful victories in an exhausting war of attrition to fit in with peers, who always seemed to be smarter, funnier and cooler than me.

The most important lessons during those formative years weren't delivered in hushed tones by teachers or rigorously tested by coursework and exam papers. They were shared by friends and relatives with sympathetic smiles, who bore the same scars as me and had survived a painful rite of passage that was propelling me, at dizzying speed, across the rubicon to adulthood.

Award-winning stand-up comedian Bo Burnham eloquently captures the anguish and insecurity of those so-called wonder years in his heartfelt and exquisite debut feature.

Anchored by a mesmerising lead performance of unvarnished, naked emotion from Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade joins an elite class of cinematic coming-of-age stories which candidly reflect a pivotal moment when hormones rage, bodies develop at an alarming rate and every heartbreak is amplified beyond rational thought to the end of days.

Humour and uncomfortable self-reflection are best buddies in Burnham's polished script, which doesn't spare his central character any blushes as she fibs about her sexual experience to impress a boy or spars with her father over the dinner table.

This beautiful-yet-awkward creature is 13-year-old Kayla Day (Fisher), who is in the final stretch of solitude at Miles Grove Middle School.

She stands awkwardly on the precipice of a more formidable challenge – high school – without any emotional support except for her father (Josh Hamilton), whose faltering attempts to connect with his self-conscious daughter are thwarted by the pings of social media.

Unexpectedly, Kayla receives an invite to a pool party thrown by classmate Kennedy Graves (Catherine Oliviere). Kennedy only extended an invitation under parental duress but Kayla attends nevertheless, hoping to bump into her unrequited crush, Aiden (Luke Prael). She is oblivious to attention from Kennedy's cousin Gabe (Jake Ryan).

Eighth Grade comes top of the class in every respect, from Burnham's sensitive portrayal of the flawed protagonists and their tribal rituals to Fisher's natural, unselfconscious and achingly funny performance.

Current obsessions with video sharing and online visibility are seamlessly woven into Kayla's personal journey, ushering us back and forth between teary-eyed recognition and unbridled joy.

"It's so easy to love you," Kayla's father tells her, bursting with pride that ripples off the screen. We know how he feels.

RATING: 9/10

EIGHTH GRADE (15, 94 mins) Comedy/Drama/Romance. Elsie Fisher, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Josh Hamilton, Catherine Oliviere, Luke Prael, Daniel Zolghadri. Director: Bo Burnham

Released: April 26 (selected cinemas)

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