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  Eighth Grade Little Miss Lonely
Year: 2018
Director: Bo Burnham
Stars: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Daniel Zolghadri, Fred Hechinger, Imani Lewis, Luke Prael, Catherine Oliviere, Nora Mullins, Gerald W. Jones, Missy Yager, Shacha Temirov, Greg Crowe, Thomas John O'Reilly, Frank Deal
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) has something to say to the world, but the world is not listening, for her message is lost in the vast world of social media. She is a thirteen-year-old about to move from an Eighth Grade to the High School, and this is her final week in Middle School where it is safe to say she has not shone, in fact for almost all her career there she has flown well under the radar, without even a best friend to her name. Although she uploads videos online with her chatting to an imagined audience, nobody is watching them, and her single dad Mark (Josh Hamilton) is pained to see that she never seems to spend time with anybody out of school. Then there's the final straw...

Writer and director Bo Burnham set out to capture what it was like to be a teenager in the late twenty-tens and make it as accurate as he possibly could, but did his target audience recognise themselves in his portrayal? He had made his name as a comedian, starting very young and using the internet to promote himself and build a following, much as his lead character was trying and failing to do, so he knew the landscape of social media better than many of those of an older generation who would look at this and roll their eyes at the concept of these kids addicted to presenting themselves, or an idealised version of themselves, to the rest of the planet.

Time and again we see Kayla scrolling through images and throwaway comments on her phone, which has become her substitute for interacting with people in real life. Her father is the only one who tries to make conversation with her, treat her like a human being, yet being of a certain age she finds his attention, which is only intended to be supportive, cloying and embarrassing: she wants to be self-sufficient without realising this is a problem because almost everyone needs to interact with others to succeed in that, and to be blunt, she simply is not that interesting to her peers. She knows this deep down, and her efforts to do something about it brought out a specific reaction in viewers.

Look at any comment on Eighth Grade and the same word crops up over and over: cringe. As Kayla's crushingly banal videos illustrate, her personality is not fully formed yet, since she has nobody to assist her in moulding it aside from her dad, who can only do so much: he's the sweetest character in this, yet you can completely understand why his daughter would want to be independent from him, because that is part of growing up. Not that it is compulsory to go through a teenage rebellion phase, some people are more chill about that kind of thing, but Kayla is so wedded to her phone that any distraction from it will have her reacting negatively. You would like to believe this depiction was an exaggeration, but it did come across as uncomfortably authentic, especially the barely tolerant conversations conducted with one person not able to tear their gaze from their screen.

Those were from classmates who did not really deserve Kayla's attention, but they posit it as the other way around, and you do sympathise with the girl if you have ever been in an awkward social situation for any length of time, be it an hour or a lifetime. When she is reluctantly invited to a pool party by Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere), a richer, infinitely more popular girl, the horror of having to dress in a bathing suit when you're not as slender as the others in your class causes our heroine to suffer a panic attack, but she does get a tiny reward for her bravery when oddball Gabe (Jake Ryan) pays her some attention and actually talks to her normally. Unlike her crush Aiden (Luke Prael) who couldn't give a shit until she invents the promise of nude photos of herself, and even then, forgets about her seconds after that false admission. Kayla is voted "most quiet" in her year, and that stings, but she is not completely desolate: every so often Burnham offers her a lifeline that provides hope. It all ends on a note of reassurance, there are funnier comedies, but it is well-meaning. Music by Anna Meredith (good choice).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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