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Elsie Fisher

“EIGHTH GRADE” My rating: A-

94 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Middle school means isolation, mortification and general angst. Such was the case even before cell phones and the internet upped the ante on  peer pressure.

Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade” perfectly captures that indefinable sense of adolescent unease.  You may find yourself looking away from the screen as his 14-year-old heroine undergoes yet another wince-inducing humiliation. This film is so true in its harrowing honesty, so aching in its inarticulate yearning that it is almost too much to bear.

But stick with it. With its savagely dead-on sense of humor, its unflinching depiction of pubescent peril and a star-making performance by young Elsie Fisher, the film slowly sucks us in, leaving us wiser, more sympathetic and superbly entertained.

The film follows Kayla (Fisher), a 14-year-old enduring her last week of eighth grade before summer break.  She wants desperately to be somebody — from her bedroom she launches a chirpy daily videocast (“Hi, guys, it’s Kayla back with another video!?”) in which she dispenses advice to her fellow 8th graders. She suspects, though, that nobody  is watching.

And there’s more than a little irony when she tells her possibly nonexistent viewers that  it’s important to be themselves.  As if she has a clue as to her own essence.

It’s not that the other kids are mean to Kayla.  Most of them — like the deb-in-training Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere) — don’t  even acknowledge her existence. That anonymity is both infuriating and suffocating.

All this has made Kayla a very prickly young lady, and she takes out most of her anger and anxiety on her single dad (Josh Hamilton), a chipper optimist whose transparent efforts to instill in his daughter hope and self-worth only fill her with eye-rolling contempt.

(more…)

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