(If you’re curious, my review process. It’s also pasted at the end of this post. I don’t believe in Rotten Tomatoes. I just believe in me.)
(***all-purpose SPOILER ALERT*** there may be some in this review)
SW SCORE: 45
5 out of 5 🐙
You can google reviews about this movie and see the endless bouquets of praise directed at Elsie Fisher’s performance. I’m not here to argue with them. It is a singular turn. With breathtakingly real dialogue and mastery of pace and expression and emotion, she owns the film. She is the heart, the brain, the guts, the soul, and every other part, physical or metaphysical of this movie.
The story isn’t new. A child low on the brutal social hierarchy is trying to climb that ladder, find love, and feel good about herself, like she believes the people high on the ladder do. She records video monologues that detail her self-improvement and social goals. She believes this meta examination will help her gain popularity and reach her goals. She even believes she is better off than most and she is providing wisdom for kids who are worse off than her. But to the audience, it’s plain that she is totally lost. She says all the right things but they are all worn cliches: be yourself, don’t care what other people think about you, etc. And she doesn’t follow her own advice.
The movie has the usual foils and friends: disinterested love interests, mean girls, the nice guy she overlooks, a kind parent. Kayla spends most of the film trying to impress them or defy them. That’s a common plot arc in these kind of films as well. While the structure is common, Fisher’s performance takes it to a new level that I have never seen in a coming of age movie for this age group.
There are some beautiful symbolic moments: social media assaults her soul and mind and then when her phone screen shatters, her vehicle to access that same horrible social media, she cuts her hand on it and she bleeds. Social media is assaulting her in every possible way. But she sees it as her salvation even as it is cutting her. I’m glad I grew up in the 80s. I don’t think I could have handled the social media beast along with my daily struggles. I feel really bad for kids today.
The bravura majesties of the film, the most amazing moments in a startling performance, are the monologues she delivers to her video channel. There’s nothing I can write here to adequately describe them. The writing is nonpareil. And the character and delivery of them change as Kayla deals with the hard road she has chosen. She fluctuates between so many poignant emotions, often dramatically jumping between disparate emotional states in seconds.
There are traps set for veteran viewers of this genre. Bo Burnham expertly guides the plot and knows the film is being watched by savvy audiences and he messes with their expectations. Sometimes the surprises are lovely. Sometimes they are heartbreaking. He uses a joyous and skilled soundtrack to color the already vibrantly written characters.
The ending will make you smile even though it might not surprise you. It’s often how these kinds of films end. But I have to repeat that Fisher and the writing take this classic plot and take it into orbit. Take these two bits of advice from Kayla and I believe you will probably have a much better chance of a happy ending yourself:
“You have to be scared first in order to brave.”
“Not knowing what will happen is what makes things exciting, scary, and fun.”
(1) Shark Wrighter (SW) Score: Based on a sum of 5 sub-scores (acting, directing, writing/story, effects: cinematography &/or animation &/or effects, editing) with 1 being terrible and 10 being terrific.
(2) Octopuses (0-5 🐙, with 5 being fantastic and 0 being feces)
(3) Octopuses are my unquantifiable feeling…not that SW score is scientific…but this one is even less so
(4) ++ This optional section includes any incredibly *brilliant observations that don’t fit into simple quantitative slices like the scores and octopuses *(they are likely NOT brilliant)