While we’re all taking the temperatures of the summer blockbusters and examining their contents for possible clues as to the direction of Hollywood, this season has also had a passel of great debuts by first-time filmmakers: Ari Aster (Hereditary), Boots Riley (Sorry to Bother You), Carlos López Estrada (Blindspotting). Joining that company is Bo Burnham, the stand-up comic who turns 28 later this month and whose scarifying movie about adolescence, Eighth Grade, expands to theaters in Tarrant County this week.
Elsie Fisher stars as Kayla Day, a 13-year-old girl being raised by her divorced father (Josh Hamilton, who is not to be confused with the similarly named baseball player). She spends much of her free time making and posting YouTube videos about being confident, without disclosing that that’s the very thing she has trouble with at school. It’s the last week of school before summer vacation, and when she gets back a video she made of herself two years ago predicting she’d be the coolest girl in school, it’s a crushing reminder of how far she’s fallen short.
Burnham films this in a lo-fi style, with much of the action being shot in the grainy video of Kayla’s videos. He has an eye for middle-school drudgery, as witnessed by his depiction of a dreary awards assembly near the beginning. There’s a thoroughly depressing scene in which the students are practicing what to do in the event of a mass shooting, made funnier and more depressing by the fact that the “gunman” is a cop holding a fake AK-47 and saying “bang” while the drama club kids overemote being shot. Anna Meredith’s candy-colored music nevertheless draws our attention to the insecurities and indignities foisted upon Kayla on a daily basis, and she provides a great whoosh of sound when Kayla sees a cute boy (Luke Prael) who has all the confidence that she lacks. (He also seems really, really stupid, but Kayla doesn’t notice this.)