Pensacola, Florida
Sunday October 21st 2018

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Nice Without a Catch


By Joshua Encinias

20th-century poet W. H. Auden called the industrialized world anxiety-inducing, and, in 2018, a lot of that anxiety comes from social media.

Instagram and Snapchat have turned picture sharing into a competition, reversing the words of Fred Rogers, “You don’t ever have to do anything sensational for people to love you.” Great becomes an enemy of the good; quiet moments are choked of their meaning. The struggle isn’t new, and it’s experienced by everyone, including teenage girls and famous male comedians alike. That’s where the new movie “Eight Grade” finds its sweet spot.

The film explores the anxiety once only experienced by performers that’s now ubiquitous and democratized by social media.

Written and directed by 27-year-old comedian Bo Burnham, “Eighth Grade” explores a teenage girl’s quiet desperation.

“I felt like my anxiety was very specific to me being a comedian with an audience. Then I would do my shows, and like young kids would come up to me and said they felt like me,” Burnham said in an H3 Podcast interview.

15-year-old actress Elsie Fisher portrays Kayla, a normal middle school girl. It’s her last week of middle school, and her burgeoning social life is in view. But the gap between who she was in middle school and who she’s becoming is a ravine made wider, not minimized, by technology. Kayla’s stuck in her room like any other kid, but watching schoolmates on social media drives her FOMO to parrot self-help platitudes on her YouTube channel. It makes her actual social interactions cringy but hilariously relatable.

Since opening at Sundance, “Eighth Grade” has been winning audiences over with its humor and humanity, and Pensacola moviegoers are finally getting a chance to see it. In anticipation of the film expanding and coming to more screens, we talked to Fisher about making the movie and how it compares to her real life.

INWEEKLY: As an actor, do you relate to your character, Kayla, having her internet self and her real self?
FISHER: I definitely relate as an actor, but I can also just relate to it as a person. I think really anyone who has social media is performing because you have to worry so much about the permanence of what you say on it. You know, you only want to show your best self.

INWEEKLY: Do you have anybody like Emily Robinson’s character Olivia in your life? Any older teens who introduced you to the high school world?
FISHER: Yeah, I have three friends in high school who are all juniors. They’re pretty much like Olivia to me. I think Olivia’s character can be summed up as “nice, without a catch.” I think a lot of people assume, “Oh, yeah, Kayla’s going to call her, and Olivia’s going to be mean. It’s like, oh god!” I’m lucky enough to know people, and if we’re being honest, it’s more than three. I’m just singling out these friends.

INWEEKLY: You talked about having to perform online. Do you think as a young adult actor you have to perform a maturity beyond your years or grow up a little faster?
FISHER: I feel like it’s beneficial, that’s for sure. I don’t think it’s something you have to do. I’ve met so many child actors who are just doing fantastic. They’re still kids and it’s awesome. I don’t regret growing up faster. I think I was just raised right by my parents. It is beneficial, though. It helps me observe the workings on set.

INWEEKLY: Jake Ryan is so funny in this movie. Were you laughing on set?
FISHER: It was pretty professional. There were some things, I mean, in the moment, it’s really awkward, and it is a funny scene even when you’re in it. The banana scene, when you go and watch it, now is a pretty funny scene, but on set it was treated just as seriously as something like the car scene because both are part of a truthful narrative.

INWEEKLY: The movie has so many heightened emotions, and the soundtrack amplifies it. Did you hear the music beforehand, or did Bo set the tone for how intense it would be?
FISHER: No, a lot of the tone was set by the wonderful environment created by the cast and crew. I heard the music for the first time when I watched the movie for the first time at the Sundance screening. I was just blown away. I can’t imagine the movie without it. It’s insane.

INWEEKLY: What was your first response to seeing the film?
FISHER: I immediately started crying. Not because I was embarrassed to have my face on screen. It was a proud kind of crying, you know?

INWEEKLY: How was it working with Bo as a director?
FISHER: It was amazing. He’s a very fantastic director. He’s in the scene with you, and I think that’s just wonderful. He was there. It’s hard to point out one specific story, but if you ever had a thought, he would want to listen. He would want your input. He was very aware that he was a man writing about a teenager. To me especially, and I think all the other kids, he was like, “You guys are the teenagers; you know what’s happening. I don’t. You take the lead.” He was very willing to collaborate. I think that’s beautiful.

“Eighth Grade” is in theaters now.
a24films.com/films/eighth-grade