While Bo Burnham’s directorial debut, “Eighth Grade,” is understated in its loose narrative, its exploration of social pressures on young people shines throughout the film.
Burnham, who became a comedian after making a name for himself on YouTube, uses the same video-sharing platform and other social media platforms as the landscape of his foray into filmmaking.
While this aspect of digital sharing plays a crucial role in the story, the film is really about finding confidence and identity as a young person.
With the exception of a few sound-cue gags, there are hardly any cinematic aspects in “Eighth Grade” that interfere with Burnham’s honest portrayal of growing up in a digital age.
This is to say that the film does little to make its audience feel as if they are watching a movie rather than a real girl’s story.
This is most clear in the film’s loose narrative structure, which is in many ways reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s 2014 Oscar-nominated film “Boyhood.”
In both “Eighth Grade” and “Boyhood,” there is a sense of watching glimpses of real life: both the consequential and the trivial.
But where “Boyhood” is long and somewhat lethargic, “Eighth Grade” is economic and dynamic in its storytelling.
In a sentence, “Eighth Grade” shares the story of a girl named Kayla (Elsie Fisher), who is struggling to find her place during the final week of her eighth-grade year.
During this week, we see that Kayla is awkward, shy and eager to make friends.
One of her favorite hobbies is making videos in which she offers social advice to other teenagers. She has trouble following much of her own advice.
It’s hard not to cringe and empathize with Kayla as she stumbles and struggles through various social encounters throughout the film, but her bravery and perseverance endear her to the audience with such ease.
A lot of this has to do with Fisher’s performance.
Fisher, who previously appeared in smaller roles in the “Despicable Me” franchise and “McFarland, USA,” expertly takes on her first leading role in “Eighth Grade.”
Her ability to capture a young person’s feeling of complete helplessness and vulnerability makes her a standout in this role.
In addition to Fisher’s superb performance, Josh Hamilton, who plays Fisher’s father in the film,offers a sincere portrayal of a father struggling to help his daughter.
There are several scenes throughout the film that are wonderful to watch solely due to the dynamic between Fisher and Hamilton.
This is where Burnham’s film really succeeds: by highlighting so candidly the interactions between Kayla and everyone in her life.
One of the best scenes occurs as Kayla arrives at a classmate’s birthday party, which she was invited to out of pity.
By showing loud and obnoxious kids throughout the scene, Burnham deftly stages this rowdy, middle-school behavior as a foreign juggernaut to which Kayla must become accustomed.
Additionally, Burnham makes narration useful in this scene among others by overlaying Kayla’s dialogue from her advice videos.
This creates an excellent contrast between the ideals Kayla believes in and the actions she carries out.
While “Eighth Grade” isn’t a flashy summer flick, it’s a thoughtful film that effortlessly evokes memories of the trials of adolescence.