When I first heard about this movie I thought it was going to be exactly like every other film revolving around puberty and the struggles of school: terrible and filled with actors old enough to order drinks at a bar. While I was a fan of Bo Burnham I didn’t have a lot of hope for this movie–scripts get neutered all the time and creative vision often take a backseat to the wishes of a producer. Burnham is also a man pretty far removed from his middle school experiences–I’m only twenty years old and I barely remember what it was like to go through the eighth grade. But I gave the movie a chance, and I’m very glad I did because Burnham manages to get it right.
I hardly laughed during the scenes that were meant to be cringe-worthy because they brought back memories of what I did in middle school and it wasn’t far off. The scenes where the protagonist was worried about going into high school and the anxieties she felt about a fresh start somewhere new was especially parallel to my own experiences. The driving force of the movie is Bo’s understanding of anxiety and how it affects you. I remember him saying in an interview how introverts aren’t simply just shut ins– they are people who want to interact with others but have the hardest time in the world doing it. That’s about as accurate as you can get when describing introverts and how they experience social interactions.Burnham’s understanding is especially prevalent through the script and the casting.
The reality is that middle school is often when you first experience the scrutiny of others and you lose grip of what it means to be comfortable. In the film, most scenes can be extraordinarily uncomfortable–specifically the ones that deal with the characters exploring the idea of sex for the first time. It also captures the essence of weird hormones and coming to terms that everyone around your age thinks you’re strange.
The performances from the child actors in the movie were great; there was a definitely a lot of moments where I thought “That’s not written, that kid is drawing directly from what he experienced like last week.” While my eighth grade experience was much different from these characters, it was refreshing to see how well it depicted youth in 2018.
The movie also has a strong and unique soundtrack, the emotional highs of the performances on screen were almost always well complimented with what was happening in the score. A number of scenes would not have been as good as they were had there not been bright and roaring synths in the background.
Overall though I think the movie’s greatest strength is in its accuracy to what it is like growing up in today’s world, besides a slightly forced reference at the end of the movie, everything from the technology, interactions, and the character’s lives felt so genuine. My only gripes were how some of the shots were framed–although some of the close-ups played well with the theme of anxiety, some scenes just felt really amateurish in the composition and other basic aspects such as depth of field. However, the average viewer will not pick up on these minor errors; only trained eyes such as myself have to take this into account so my five Letterboxd followers know I care about cinematography. But this snobbish nitpickiniess can be easily excused when the overall product is so great without even considering that it’s Bo’s directorial debut