Friday, July 20, 2018


Check out my reviews, on Phoenix Magazine online, of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and The Equalizer 2, as well as a revival showing Sunday, at FilmBar, of George Romero's Season of the Witch.

Also opening this weekend...

Eighth Grade--The heroine of writer-director Bo Burnham's comedy-drama is Kayla (Elsie Fisher), a 13-year-old, trying to navigate the last few days of the title grade. She takes a very proactive approach, posting online videos offering social advice despite her own awkwardness, the obvious intended beneficiary of her optimistic wisdom being herself.

She gets invited to a popular girl's birthday party, mainly because the girl's mom is interested in Kayla's single dad (Josh Hamilton). She struggles with a crush on a boy in her class, and assures him of her excellence at giving blowjobs. She participates in a deeply creepy live-shooter drill at school. She shadows a cool friendly older girl at the high school she'll be attending next year. And in a scene that will be excruciatingly familiar to many parents, she endures the clumsy attempts of her adoring dad to get her to put down her phone at the dinner table and engage with him.

These episodes seem to drift into Kayla's life at random, and most of them just drift back out, with no particular dramatic payoff for good or ill. Burnham uses loose ends to emphasize the odd limbo of the middle school years; things pop up that look like they're going to be earth-shakingly important, only to disappear just as quickly, and now and then something that seems inconsequential proves significant after all.

Burnham and the superb, subtle young Fisher refuse to sentimentalize Kayla, but they also insist that we experience the story from her viewpoint. Even when she's the butt of the joke, we may laugh, but we feel her pain, and ultimately she's among the most lovable of teen-movie protagonists. Eighth Grade is low-key, but it packs a cumulative emotional punch. Burnham's disciplined naturalistic touch and sympathetic wit make it funny, poignant, even universal.

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