EIGHTH GRADE: When I was in middle school, I felt like the most screwed up kid on the planet. It’s the prevailing emotion, along with inferiority, shared by thirteen-year old Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) doing her best to navigate through the overdramatized hell of early adolescence before heading to high school. Her angst and insecurities come not from being bullied but rather from being the student no one quite sees such that her peers recognize her with the dubious honor of voting her “Most Quiet”. It’s only when she makes self-affirming videos of herself, which few watch, that she finds her voice to express herself with a confidence and bravado that’s masquerading deep rooted anxiety. There’s a real ring of authenticity in twenty-seven year-old rookie director/writer Bo Burnham’s screenplay which never hits a false note. The universality of theme will resonate with viewers of any age who will recognize either themselves or someone they knew from their teenage years (Most of whom, we realize now, were real idiots.) Newcomer Fisher is perfectly cast as a young woman in that awkward physical and social time period where you’re still young enough to retain remnants of baby fat but old enough to endure an outbreak of acne. Fisher’s breakthrough performance is matched by Josh Hamilton (THE BOURNE IDENTITY) as her well-meaning, single father who’s constantly trying to walk that tricky tightrope between being supportive without being intrusive. It’s possible that Burnham may be striving for a digital/social media era (Where part of the curriculum sadly now includes “active shooter” drills.) version of FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982) that includes a scene where Fisher goes online to effectively learn how to give oral pleasure in ways that went beyond anything that Phoebe Cates, using a mere carrot, tutored Jennifer Jason-Leigh in in that ‘80s teen romp. But what makes this gem of a film work is its’ multiplicity of scenes that cause one to reflect and say, “Yes, I know that well…and boy am I glad that’s behind me”.
CRITIC’S GRADE: B+
CLOSING CREDITS: Life in the seventh grade is depicted with a no holds barred edginess in WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE (1996) from first-time director/writer Todd Solodnz. His narrative follows a smart but ordinary girl named Dawn (Heather Matarazzo) who not only has to deal with the “slings and arrows” of junior high life but also with a non-supportive family who makes it clear to her that she’s not the kid they love the most. But through it all, Dawn emerges as a juvenile with enormous cunning and resourcefulness in a movie laden with terrific satire with a dead on view of adolescence.