Tracker Pixel for Entry

​Eighth Grade: Burnham Makes Strong Feature Debut with Fisher

by Greg Carlson | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Cinema | August 15th, 2018

Elsie Fisher’s Kayla Day is the lonely but indefatigable middle-school protagonist of first-time feature filmmaker Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade,” a winning addition to the pantheon of the adolescent cinematic bildungsroman. What details and nuances other performers might have brought to the role we wouldn’t dare to imagine, so perfect is Fisher’s take. She constructs a brilliant characterization utterly unselfconscious in its self-consciousness. There are millions like Kayla, permanently chained to the glowing screens of cellphone, tablet, and laptop -- but Fisher is essential. Without her, the movie would be difficult to imagine.

While the hopes and dreams, as well as the challenges and embarrassments, of “Eighth Grade” are universal experiences, the technological containers in which they manifest make Burnham’s film an instant time capsule. Kayla follows a long line of young movie characters who find opportunities to create distance between themselves and their parents, but her methods involve nonstop scrolling through Instagram, earbud volume loud enough to ignore the attention of father Mark (Josh Hamilton). And as it has been for some time, the World Wide Web is a simulacrum offering intensified, accelerated fantasies and horrors from self-constructed projections of the curated “best life” to candid tutorials on oral sex.

The ambitious host of a YouTube channel bereft of viewers and subscribers, Kayla commits to “really putting herself out there” via the diary-like doses of solid advice she shares to the internet. Burnham uses Kayla’s clips to structure the film, and the nuggets of wisdom imparted in the interstitials as direct camera address never fail to find their mark. Innocent and earnest, the lessons are so obviously the remedies and prescriptions that Kayla can’t bring herself to swallow. Signing off each installment with a cheerful “Gucci!,” Kayla -- like so many kids who express themselves in similar fashion -- interestingly projects a more confident persona via the mediated world than she dares attempt face-to-face with her peers.

In the real spaces of the hallways and classrooms at her school, Kayla navigates the minefield of potential humiliations by remaining quiet and observant. Curiously, she does not enjoy the companionship of a close friend and confidante with whom she can commiserate, a circumstance intensified when she and some fellow soon-to-be-freshmen shadow high schoolers. Kayla’s partner is Olivia (Emily Robinson), who invites Kayla to hang out at the mall. Nearly unable to contain herself, Kayla soaks up the conversation of Olivia and friends at the food court. The hilarious scene is one of several in which Burnham reiterates a cyclical, generational motif of the similarities and differences that exist with just a few years of distance.

At the age of 27, Burnham has a tremendous ear for contemporary culture, and his own background as a YouTuber is vividly reflected in the details of “Eighth Grade.” The plot is resolutely low-key. Kayla’s world is distinct from the ones inhabited by Dawn Wiener in “Welcome to the Dollhouse” (as noted by Leslie Felperin) and Nadine Franklin in “The Edge of Seventeen” (with which “Eighth Grade” shares a number of depictions of deeply awkward teen rites of passage). Burnham nails audience identification with his heroine, however, and sequences like the pool party -- a “squirmy tour de force embellished with a punctuating zoom and a plangent sense of dread” according to Manohla Dargis -- demonstrate the work of a talented newcomer.  

Recently in:

FARGO – Early Tuesday morning Captain Andrew Frobig seated himself at his office desk, quickly discovering that the jail count was up. About 76 people had been incarcerated over the long Veterans Day weekend bringing the total…

Best Bets

A Show for Joe

by HPR Staff

Sunday, November 25, 3-10pmSanctuary Event Center, 670 4th Ave. N, FargoA special benefit show for Joe Swegarten and his family. Joe sustained injuries from a hit and run accident this summer. Musicians from across the FM area band…

It's that time of the year when we’ve finally finished up our Halloween candy and started to deck the halls... but who’s rushing the season when it’s the season of the holiday rush? Here at HPR we’ve had shopping and…

The Third Reich—And Making A Country Great AgainI was in first grade in country school on November 9, 1938 when the Nazis, in avenging the assassination of a German embassy official in Paris by a 17-year-old Jewish youth, committed…

FARGO - A collection of memories from High Plains Reader's annual Cocktail Showdown. Participants were judged on creativity, flavor, and presentation; and this year we added a new category. Like years before, each establishment was…

Ah! The holidays are rushing at us, like well like an out of control, careening caravan. Time to start thinking about what to get the chef in the family for Christmas. The days of a new apron or oven mitt are over, or are they?An…

by Gabrielle Herschgabbyhersch@gmail.com With the kickoff of the holiday season (and the weather!) underway, it’s almost time for the annual holiday organ concerts at the Fargo Theatre. The concerts, put on as a partnership…

A long time ago (1977) in a galaxy far, far away (20th Century Fox) there was a film released called “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.” George Lucas introduced the world to his Flash Gordon-inspired space opera featuring a…

by: Melissa Gonzalezmelissam.gonzalez@outlook.comFrom music, to sculpture, to grand scale murals, one local artist is working tirelessly to share his work with the community.The West Acres Mall is currently hosting its fifth…

by Stella Mehlhoffstellamehlhoff@gmail.com“Our mission is to invigorate civic conversation through intimate and transformative storytelling.” This statement posted on Theatre B’s website and tacked to their studio wall in…

Those who have been reading my articles for a while may remember when I interviewed Zachary Tooker about the Level Two Comedy Club at the Radisson in Fargo. While the club may have unfortunately closed, Tooker has not ceased…

Beer Snob

Warm up with a hot toddy

by HPR Contributor

by Ben Myhrebenmyhre35@gmail.com Fall is once again upon us. The leaves are turning, gardens have been pulled, and Summer’s heat has waned into Autumnal frosts. Along with the change of seasons comes a change of seasonal flavors.…

I’m a big man, I’m tall and powerful, but this also causes some issues in the body department. I suffer from acute scoliosis in my lower back, and pain radiates from this area on a daily basis. I have only ever had one massage…

by Devin Joubertdevinlillianjoubert@gmail.comIt’s that beautiful time of the year that’s filled with seasonal decorations, sparkly lights, warm family gatherings, and delicious feasts. I love everything about this time of the…

For all intents and purposes, the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party is bankrupt. North Dakota is now a one-party state. That’s sad. Because it wasn’t so long ago that we had an active two-party state government. Now the…