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/

Too Late To Die Young – Filmhouse, Edinburgh

Writer & Director – Dominga Sotomayor

Chile Brazil Argentina Netherlands Qatar/ 2018/ 110 mins

Dominga Sotomayor Castillo has a penchant for producing cinema which places family experiences at its core. She examines the dynamics between generations, without putting dependence on melodrama. Nature is a common theme, particularly with her 2013 film La Isla, how freeing yet choking isolation can be. In her new cinematic venture, Too Late To Die Young, we see a continuance of this dynamic. It is not outside forces or manipulated pathos which piques our interest, but slow character study and warming aesthetics.

While we have multiple characters with dynamics between families, friends and lovers – we focus on Demian Hernández as Sofía. Angsty, brooding and chain-smoking, Sofia might have been the typical teenager seeking a life in the city. Hernández’s performance elevates the usual ‘moody teen’ into a young woman coming to grips with her community.

Complexity in the relationships boils over in the third act, a New Year’s Eve party which culminates in validation for some, mistakes for others. Keep in mind that the framework of Sotomayor’s production is not only centring around the youth but in the coming-of-age story for the nation itself. Her spiritual focusing around Chile’s return to democracy as history occurs in tandem. It’s not the driving force but instead an unseen toxin, twisting itself around the community.

Exposition, of which there is little, is not force-fed to the audience. Too Late To Die Young builds on its atmosphere to generate intrigue. Nothing surrounding Sotomayor’s filmmaking is quick – she takes her time, smouldering and gradually layering her story like smoke. The issue is that there is no fire. Emotional instability rises in a predictable manner, but when there is a pay-off, there’s nothing to bite into. The film has all the components of a timeless narrative, one accessible and relateable for generations despite its South American setting, yet the journey though tapers off in appeal.

This approach can be grating, given the beauty in how the new world is stitched into the lives of our community, only for dissipation to occur when we do focus on our characters. Incidents go without notice for the large part. A minor break-in with the murmurs of outsiders, a passing comment of a deceased horse poisoning the water supply. There was almost a sublime look into the subjective nature of communities outside of suburban landscapes, but it’s lulling influence dismantles the drive of the film.

Inti Brione’s cinematography reflects the realism of the film. Shots are held for as long as they need to be. This is except for the mirroring opening and closing shots. The final shot is a reverse of the beginning, opening up our view to provide insight and round off the film. Just as the country exists in a haze of uncertainty, Brione’s aesthetic is dusty, clouded and reflecting the hesitation of not only of youth but of a country in the between stages of the regime and liberation.

Too Late to Die Young captures that appealing eternal Summer-warmth, which we long for but find no longer exists. Breaking from isolation is far from a fresh concept. Sotomayor stamps her patient directorial style all over the production. It lifts what could be a simple tale into a transfixing piece of cinema, it’s drama tantalising. We hear every breath and movement, we smell the dust rise up as this atmospheric, yet brief drama builds into weak climax. Like the billows of smoke, we grasp as it slips away from us.

Originally published for Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/too-late-to-die-young/