Saturday, 14 December 2019

They are searching for themselves too

They are searching for themselves too

AT the start of the awards season, there were the usual names in contention for the Best Actress Oscar.

Would it be Glenn Close at last? Might Nicole Kidman win her second?

Then suddenly a new name began to drift into the frame — that of 15-year-old Elsie Fisher.

Fisher is the star of the US sleeper hit Eighth Grade, a heart-melting study of teenage anxiety written and directed by YouTube comedian Bo Burnham.

As eighth grade pupil Kayla Day, she’s simply incredible — it’s hard to imagine another actress of any age who would be willing to make herself so vulnerable, so exposed — let alone an unknown.

Like Burnham, Kayla is something of a YouTube star, but mostly in her own mind — no one watches her cute self-help tutorials, and so she’s really talking to herself when, in the film’s opening moments, she tells the camera, “Everything will work out if you’re just being yourself.”

But who is Kayla Day? It’s a question she wrestles with as she prepares to make the tricky transition from middle school to high school, opening the time capsule her younger self made, filled with all kinds of juvenilia: ticket stubs, a Justin Bieber sticker, a baseball, and a SpongeBob Squarepants USB stick with a breathless message from the girl she used to be.

Her puzzled gaze speaks volumes — it all seems so silly now.

Kayla’s biggest fan, it seems, is her father Mark (Josh Hamilton), whose awkward attempts to be a friend rather than a parent are beautifully observed examples of the film’s subtle approach to cringe comedy.

Mark is proud of his daughter, whose mother is never seen or mentioned, but feels she needs to put herself “out there” — and the opportunity comes when a stuck-up schoolmate’s mother invites Kayla to her daughter’s pool party.

For an insecure teenager, any social event is a potential apocalypse — and this one is no exception.

Fisher plays the part of the outsider perfectly — a little spotty and a little overweight, Kayla stands out in her frumpy lime green one-piece.

The hostess clearly doesn’t want her there, but Kayla styles it out, treating the whole uncomfortable experience as a chance to put her YouTube wisdom to the test.

Films about tweendom have been made before, but few will capture those
in-between years quite as excruciatingly and as movingly as this.

Burnham may have been the one that wrote it that way, but Elsie Fisher brings it all to life.

Forget the Lady Gaga movie — this is where a real star is born.

Eighth Grade is showing at the Regal Picturehouse on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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