Trust a comedian to eke out the most tragic elements of one's life, and trust them further to make them funny. Bo Burnham pitches his extraordinarily ambitious directorial debut at that rich intersection between tragedy and comedy, somehow fusing them together into a portrait of reality, albeit a somewhat liberally ornated one. Eighth Grade is refreshingly unconcerned with the mundane grit of everyday existence - it's pitched at a more accessible frequency that may hinder it from ever aspiring to a level of greatness of which I'm certain Burnham is capable, but that helps propel it to a level of solid goodness.
And indeed, that's precisely due to those qualities that convince me that Burnham can and, with the right amount of attention to detail, will become a great filmmaker. Amid the pallid neutral tones of white suburban America, he blazes through a stylistic verve of his own creation, perfectly modulated to fit the material. Savvy soundtrack cues amplify the caustic irony of several scenes, contemporary technology is utilized smartly, not overbearingly, and comedic set-pieces in a modern vogue have their idiosyncrasies stripped back, elevating them above the more self-conscious approaches of many of Burnham's peers. This may be where his ambitions fall short, but these are wise moves for the new filmmaker, and show not only sensitivity and intelligence, but that these attributes can work handsomely alongside such ambition, tempering it but never obstructing it.
If Burnham has ambition, lead Elsie Fisher has pure, raw talent. She's as accomplished at embodying her misfit teen at the early stages of puberty in her more overtly characterful moments, sequences for the gratification of the audience, as she is in a relaxed state of easygoing, frank soul-bearing. Eighth Grade is a marvellous little balancing trick between those offhand, unforced scenes of plain old reality and those of a sturdier dramatic constitution, as it is between the tragedy one experiences when going through such a tough, but necessary, period in one's life, and the comedy with which we recollect it. Sure, it could hardly get much worse - or it certainly seems that way - but it's always good to look back and know that it does get better.
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