This movie is my weekly Amazon Prime Video viewing. Watch it free with a Prime subscription (not sponsored).
Secondhand embarrassment is often a crutch of films that want you to feel pity for a character; seeing them go through tough times in public makes you, the viewer, relate to them at least on some level. At the very base level, the secondhand embarrassment can come from you watching the scene and being reminded of something else you’ve watched that made you feel the same way. Eighth Grade is different, it doesn’t use secondhand embarrassment as a crutch; rather, firsthand embarrassment as a tool. Our relationship with Kayla is so intimate and well-founded that I’m struggling to think of another high-school drama that does this even half as well. I call it…Nostalgic Nausea.
Without the nuance, subtlety, and poignancy of Elsie Fisher’s performance (I remember her name better than the actual character’s name, that says a great deal about her) this movie would not have worked, at least not nearly as well. Since we’re with Kayla for every single moment of this movie, the relationship between actress-character and character-audience are debatably equally important. If you were to watch this movie and feel as though Elsie Fisher played Kayla like Jennifer Lawrence played Mystique in X-Men Apocalypse (without effort or care), the entire movie would fail.
However, given Elsie’s performance, and the film’s structuring entirely around her, we’re able to form an incomparable bond with Kayla that has led me to define the relationship more along the lines of “firsthand embarrassment.” This movie even feels quite fantastical at times even though it’s comedy survives strictly in nuance; the “daydream” sequences are simply slow-motion shots with intense music behind them. They feel just like daydreaming, though, and without all of the absurd metaphorical imagery to explain it. Writer/director Bo Burnham just shows you the last week of 8th Grade for Kayla and that’s it– it’s because it was just so brutally honest that it had such a great impact on me.
To bring things back: nostalgic nausea. You know, that nausea you get only when you think about adolescent years? Yeah, that’s the stuff. Nostalgic, eh?
The heart that Eighth Grade wears on its sleeve is beautiful. The honestly that it shamelessly bolsters is haunting. And the cookie-cutter middle-school setting that it redefines is incredible. This movie is truly unlike any other coming-of-age movie I’ve seen recently because it doesn’t shy away from contemporary realities, and doesn’t use them as a crutch to help tell the story. This movie just shows you what Eighth Grade is like and I’ve never seen anything so accurate in my life.
In conclusion, Bo Burnham proves that art is not dead with his “show it like it is” coming-of-age drama Eighth Grade, held up marvelously by the supremely talented Elsie Fisher. Its nuance is its strength, and its emphasis on the mundane is its best tool to beat you over the head with nostalgic nausea. After it ropes you in with its protagonist, keeps you hooked with it’s honesty, it uses firsthand embarrassment to drive you through the narrative. At first, I thought this movie would be a chore to get through because I genuinely hated middle-school, but there’s just something so magical about the way it presents itself that I was completely hooked until the credits. I can’t recommend this movie enough. The younger you are, the harder it will be to watch. The older you are, the funnier it gets.
As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!
(probably in just a few hours, I’m going on a movie-spree)