Stand up comedian Bo Burnham’s directorial debut is a coming of age piece all about thirteen year old Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) who’s desperately trying to survive the final week of Eighth Grade before she moves on to High School. She’s a shy, unconfident girl without any friends, she’s not ostracised by her classmates, just ignored, which in some ways she finds worse and so is desperate to change this.
The film starts with Kayla making a video blog where she stresses the importance of being yourself and not caring what other people think of you, and it’s a handy device to quickly introduce the character, and one which is used throughout to introduce various scenes as she tries to make friends and if not influence people than at least make them aware she exists. Though it quickly becomes clear that behind the bright facade she’s unhappy with her lot, and like all kids, obsessed with social media to a disturbing level even if Burnham isn’t in any way judgemental of this.
There a good few cringeworthy scenes including an awards ceremony at the school where much to her horror Kayla wins “Most Quiet”, and though she’s got a supportive Dad (Josh Hamilton) who thinks she’s cool like most kids she’s embarrassed by the way he acts, especially when he turns up at a mall at one point to make sure she’s okay. But it’s not all cringe comedy, or cringe drama for that matter, Kayla’s obsession with social media provides some amusing moments, mockery of Facebook especially, Kayla’s crush on Aiden (Luke Prael) and her attempts at flirting with him provide strong laughter, as does a scene where she searches for a banana to practice oral sex, while a guide on to how to act when there’s a school shooting is funny and appalling at the same time.
It’s been described by some as dramedy but this is definitely more of a comedy than a drama, though there are a few serious moments including Kayla’s panic attack at a pool party and worst of all when an older guy tries to seduce her by emotionally blackmailing her, though thankfully she rejects him and the scene doesn’t become truly unpleasant. Other than that though the emphasis is on humour and putting across a message that it’s okay to be who you are, but if you’re unhappy about that, you can change.
Elsie Fisher is amazing in the lead role and Josh Hamilton puts in sterling work as well, and the rest of the kids turn in strong performances too. While it brought back the horrors of being a young teenager and many painful memories (so thanks for that Burnham!) it’s a touching and affecting movie which doesn’t shy away from exploring the more difficult aspects of being that age. It probably won’t be many people’s favourite movie but I doubt anyone will regret watching it, and it’s target audience could well gain a lot of reassurance from it that it’s pretty normal to struggle with life when a teenager, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Even if that’s not necessarily always true.