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Movie Review: ‘Eighth Grade’ is a Rewarding Portrayal of Adolescent Anxiety

CREDIT: A24

Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

Director: Bo Burnham

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Rating: R, Because The MPAA is Worried the Target Audience Can’t Handle a Frank Portrayal of Teen Sexuality

Release Date: July 13, 2018 (Limited)

I tend to be careful about recommending any movie that effectively showcases anxiety, because if it is well-made, it will all but guarantee an unpleasant experience for viewers who are prone to anxiety. In the case of Eighth Grade, which unflinchingly portrays the age that is for many the height of discomfort, it would seem to be the peak of a risky proposition. As 13-year-old Kayla, Elsie Fisher thoroughly embodies a state of constant uncertainty. If you have any empathy at all, it is a big ask on the part of the film to watch her story. But the end result is not a transfer of Kayla’s anxiety, but rather invigoration. It is quite the emotional wringer, but I am grateful for the experience, and I imagine you will be, too.

Writer/director Bo Burnham has talked about his own experiences with anxiety in his comedy performances, and he has found that teenage girls related to that side of himself more than any other group. Thus why he made a film about a middle school girl instead of what could have easily been something autobiographical. His understanding of permanent unease is clearly fundamental, which is abundantly clear in his sensory decisions. Kayla’s arrivals at various locations – school, the mall, a pool party – are accompanied by her own internal soundtrack. It tends to be exuberant party music, but overly busy with a staccato rhythm that gives it a jagged edge.

Kayla attempts to lift up herself (as well as anyone who might be out there listening) with YouTube videos offering advice about how to be more confident and adventurous in day-to-day life. Alas, we see her in a seemingly unending struggle to reap the benefits of following her own words. But by the end, she is genuinely excited for high school and in a much warmer place with her doting single father (Josh Hamilton). It seems like there really is a light at the end of the anxiety tunnel, and against all odds, Eighth Grade manages to leave me more hopeful than most movies. I hope that is not due to the randomness of my own shifting emotions, but rather genuine inspiration.

Eighth Grade is Recommended If You Like: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Inside Out, Emotional nakedness

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Guccis

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