We’ve seen countless movies about the woes of teenage kids, but they’re usually aged between 16 and 18; Kayla (the remarkable Elsie Fisher), the focus of youthful director Bo Burnham’s first feature, is only 13, an “in-between” age that many of us probably remember as being very difficult and very painful.
Kayla’s mother left — under what circumstances we never discover — when she was a baby, and the absence of a mother’s love is a gaping void in her life. Her dad, Mark (Josh Hamilton), is a devoted father, but communication between the two is difficult given that Kayla is not exactly articulate — her favourite word, of course, is “cool”, but she tells her dad he’s “weird” when he’s only acting concerned. She spends almost all her time in her bedroom hunched over her laptop, or texting on her mobile phone — which, after she hurls it across the room in frustration, has to be viewed through cracked glass.
Two years earlier, when she was 11, Kayla had buried a shoebox addressed to “the coolest girl in the world”; it contained some of the things important to her then, including a message to her older self. Now she finds those childish souvenirs hopelessly dated.
Kayla posts little homilies online, miniature lectures on subjects like “Being yourself”, “Putting yourself out there” and “How to be confident”, though she’s pretty sure that few, if any, of her peers actually read them. At school she’s a loner, quiet and reserved, with no real friends. She lives in a constant state of anxiety, worrying about making friends, talking to boys, what to do and what not to do.
One of the most popular girls in her class is Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere), but she treats Kayla with disdain. So when Kennedy’s mother, oblivious to the tension between them, insists that Kayla must come to Kennedy’s pool party, it’s a bit embarrassing. “You’ll be invited via Facebook,” the mother assures Kayla, while Kennedy mutters that “nobody uses Facebook any more”. Despite this unwelcoming attitude, Kayla turns up at the party and, unsurprisingly, turns out to be the only girl in a one-piece swimsuit — all the others are wearing bikinis. She does, however, meet Gabe (Jake Ryan), Kennedy’s cousin, who seems to be as awkward and socially challenged as she is.
She’d like a boyfriend, of course, but her expectations are low. One boy, the surly Aiden (Luke Prael), expresses interest when she (falsely) claims she has nude photographs of herself that she’s saving up to show a future boyfriend. This exchange takes place during a lockdown drill in which the kids are told what to do if a gunman starts shooting in the school. This in itself is a shocking indictment of today’s America, but it’s somehow made even worse when we see that the kids are paying little or no attention to Eighth Grade (M) Limited national release Piercing (tbc) Limited release from Thursday Pick of the Litter (G) Limited release from Thursday
Elsie Fisher in Christopher Abbott and Mia Wasikowska, below, in