Eighth Grade – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Directed and Written by Bo Burnham

United States/ 2018/94 minutes

In the eighties, John Hughes was ruler supreme of the comedic coming-of-age drama. In the nineties, we took a shot at (loosely) adapting classic literature or gross-out humour in an attempt to capture teenage angst in middle-class America.

With social media’s talons reaching just around the corner into the Millenium, quite often we now turn to a discovery of ‘self’ at an earlier age for the recent coming-of-age narrative. Starting on YouTube, writer/director Bo Burnham’s directorial debut Eighth Grade has a confident helm. It tackles anxiety, consent and mental health for Generation Z, though you’ll find it communicates wider.

Kayla is your typical 13-year old. She struggles with fitting in, trying to emulate her favourite online stars and spends too much time focusing on how others identify her. Eighth Grade has a simple premise, something it shares with the better coming of age dramas. We’re merely taken on a journey as Kayla moves into high school, encountering social media-anxiety, popularity, mental health and the concerns of consent.

Never has it been easier to identify with an American pre-teen girl, a sentence I thought I would only say once this week. There’s buzz circulating Elsie Fisher, upon watching Eighth Grade there’s little wonder why. Earning her a nomination for best-supporting actress in a musical or comedy at the Golden Globes, Fisher is what makes this film. Wholly natural in performance, she doesn’t allow the melodrama to phase her. Every minor issue in her life we can relate too, and vitally, her response. The searing agony she captures without over-stating the emotion is tremendous.

Capturing authenticity poses a danger to your narrative because reality can be dull. Burnum achieves balance for the most part, though the film finds itself dipping into exaggeration drama than that of a comedy. Which, for the most part, only peaks in the latter half of the film. Any scene with awkward-father of the year Josh Hamilton is where comedy peaks. Hamilton’s performance makes you want to call home and apologise for being a little shit growing up. The chemistry he and Fisher share is heartwarming, the two complimenting the other’s performance.

Owing to his time on YouTube, Burnham has experience in providing an excruciatingly accurate depiction of self-gratification in an image-driven pursuit of identity. From the subtle to the obvious, the film has an aesthetic similar to Hughes but finds its own identity in placing snippets of authenticity alongside basis. As Kayla pushes her viewers to be comfortable with their bodies, we see her own discomforts in the background.

As Burnham’s featural directorial debut, it shows, though not necessarily in a negative way. Sticking to the traditional three-act structure of set-up, conflict and eventual payoff/happy ending, it’s a clean, neat story which doesn’t take too many risks. It adheres closely to the safe territory in places, particularly with one-note love interests and predictable happy-endings. Where Burnham pushes a grittier turn has a significant effect due to its contrast with the mundane nature of life. These sinister turns, while fleeting, work well with Anna Meredith’s deep bass electronic soundtrack.

Burnham’s outing shows great promise for more, as does Fisher’s performance. Where the film plays itself by the books, it’s following the footsteps of game-changers. Where it decides to find its identity, it succeeds. The authenticity of Eighth Grade will ring true for a generation or two. It’s awkward, downright cringy relatability hits close to the bone. It sits as a fitting tribute to coming of age stories from the past, captures excruciatingly accurate depictions of anxiety to captivate us.

Review originally published for Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/eighth-grade/

The Addams Family – Festival Fringe 2019 Preview

Running from August 3rd – August 10th at Paradise in Augustines. Tickets available from: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/addams-family-1

Following on from their sell-out production of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown“, Bare Productions return to the Festival Fringe with The Addams Family. The macabre family who make our own seem downright dull.

Proven to have a respectful place within Edinburgh’s amateur theatre circle, Bare Productions has only been around for two years, yet already they’ve made an impression. With their previous show receiving rave reviews, things are only looking positive for this year’s production.

The multi-award-winning team of authors Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice and composing lyricist Andrew Lippa brought the kooky, bleak and melancholy family of musical theatre into a fresh new narrative. The usual Mistress of Darkness, Wednesday Addams, made infamous with Christina Ricci’s cinematic portrayal finds herself in love. Yup, you read that correctly, and with a normal, chipper young man from middle-class suburbia no less.

A production which promises dance, song and humour, Bare Productions have a pleasing show for us all. Directed by Dominic Lewis, featuring the choreography of Felicity Thomas, The Addams Family will be that dark corner of the Fringe you’ll be dying to join.

Featuring a cast of local talent, Bare Productions are eager to make a second impression at this year’s Festival. Sticking within the realms of musical comedies, they’re hoping The Addams Family will provide this. With one look at the costume design, and musical director Finlay Turnball proving himself last year, we look forward to seeing how The Addams Family will turn out.

With a limited run towards the beginning of the Fringe, it is highly advisable to *dah-nah-nah-nah* snap up a ticket.

Images provided by Gavin Smart

The Bodyguard – Edinburgh Playhouse

Screenplay by Lawrence Kasden

Book by Alexander Dinelaris

Directred by Thea Sharrock

Basing its structure on the 1992 film, Alexander Dinelaris’s screenplay makes a decent attempt in capturing the original Bodyguard, but sadly refrains from expanding upon it. Lawrence Kasden’s cinematic release told the developing love story between singer Rachel Marron and her bodyguard Frank Farmer.

The Bodyguard contains numerous Whitney Houston classics. Marron, stubborn to the interference Farmer poses, attempts to live her life. Together with her envious but vastly more talented sister, she stays with her young song. With her PR team desperate for an Oscar to boost her career, Farmer and Marron begin to realise that the most important things aren’t the fame or fortune.

Beginning with a literal bang, one may notice that our first impressions of The Bodyguard are that this might just be something extraordinary. To use the term spectacle is too simplistic, Tim Hatley’s set design is of incredible construction. It frames the production marvellously, honing our focus into the correct areas. Expanding for us to take in the bigger picture. If only there had been this much dedication in the adaption of the script or direction.

Returning is Alexandra Burke, who receives an eruption of applause from a ravenous crowd. First portraying the character of Rachel Marron back in 2012, Burke takes to the character well-enough, seeking to show off a younger, less experienced diva than Whitney’s version. It’s always promising to hear a performer take the role and make it their own, but the first act highlights that Burke is first and foremost a singer before a stage performer. Her control for standout numbers, I Will Always Love You and Jesus Loves Me are the exceptions where she finds a balance between the two.

Vocally, she is there. There is no question to her capabilities to hold a tune, but her characterisation is lacking. Chiefly this is down to the script, which seems to have severe issues with Rachel’s identity. She flips in the span of a single scene from staunch, headstrong mother into a whimpering lovestruck teenager. The whiplash from such a turnaround does Burke no favours. Attempting to save Rachel in the second half, Burke does well to inject some humour, but it’s not enough.

We seem to be watching the wrong sister for the majority of the production, for as evidently talented as Burke is – she is simply outshone by Micha Richardson’s envious sister Nicki Marron. Her emotive voice far surpasses anything we have seen this evening. In reality, her connection with the bodyguard himself Benoit Marechal is superior to that of Burke. Marechal, who is as charismatic as possible turns in an impressive Farmer.

Issues with narrative show more in the second half, but by these are largely overlooked by the finale, which, truth be told, is rather phenomenal. It’s what most of the audience has been waiting for. Burke belting out the notable tracks of the production, with some surprise vocals from the ensemble and antagonist Phil Atkinson who we discover is vastly underused.

You know you have an issue when your antagonist receives laughter upon arrival. Especially, given the nature of the character. We’re informed that this ex-military man could have a potential history of sexual violence, assault and is a masterful tactician. The stage version toys with a Travis Bickle inspiration for their antagonist. Atkinson is capable of the role, he has the manner to be intimidating, but the stage direction places him more as eye-candy than a genuine threat. One really has to think if the phrase “sexual assault” should follow your audience’s wolf-whistles.

What’s hugely frustrating about The Bodyguard is that this has the potential for a five star, stellar production. The components are in place, but they devastatingly underutilise the talents they have. This is the genre of production which resurrects a cinematic counterpart but fails to build upon it.

The Bodyguard has some of the finest set design and backing orchestral touring the country, but it has little sense of identity. Unsure if it wants to be a large-scale jukebox musical or serious drama. It deserves it’s standing ovations as much as it deserves its criticism.

Runs until July 20th, tickets avialable from The Plahouse: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-bodyguard/edinburgh-playhouse/