In Praise of Elsie Fisher
Elsie Fisher is one of the youngest actresses on the ITOL top actresses of the decade list. She was born in 2003 and voiced Agnes in “Despicable Me” aged just 5 years old.
Her biggest role to date was playing Kayla Day in “Eighth Grade” (2018) which rightfully won much critical acclaim. She was nominated for 20+ awards for the role, winning 10 of them. Nominations included the Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy and the Gotham Independent Film Award for Breakthrough Actor.
Directed by Bo Burnham, the film follows Kayla in her last week in middle school. She is very socially awkward and just wants to have good friendships and be a happier more confident person. She's angry and isolated and petrified all at the same time.
Kayla records YouTube videos on topics like how to be confident, most of which receive almost no views. It’s clear from the start that Kayla is far from an expert in these matters and could do with taking her own advice.
As the week progresses Kayla goes through an emotional and social rollercoaster of teenage life. We follow her through a socially terrifying pool party which is perfectly accompanied by the pulsing electronic score by composer Anna Meredith.
We see her experience a school crush, extreme anxiety, and a dangerous situation. And finally her snarky teenage barriers fall long enough for her to connect with her poor over-eager father.
The film is punctuated by moments of both personal pride and devastation as she tries to become the person she wants to be.
The film is not just social awkwardness, it's about deep anxiety. It's described as waiting in line to go on a rollercoaster ride without the good feeling of having just been on it. Kayla isn’t just bumbling she is terrified.
Fisher manages to physically encapsulate this anxiety with her entire body. In her worst moments she practically collapses in on herself waiting for the ground to swallow her up.
In contrast, her small moments of pride burst off the screen with just the smallest of changes in expression and body language.
Her delivery is so natural it’s like watching an eighth-grader just being themselves on screen. Which we practically are since Fisher graduated eighth grade just a week before filming began. But all of the stumbling over sentences and constantly saying "like" doesn’t feel like an act. It's just someone struggling to articulate themselves.
The strength of Fisher’s performance lies in being able to portray a terrified teenager on the cusp of feeling more confident in their own skin. Fisher displays this character development in an emotionally vulnerable way which has audiences rooting for her at every turn.
As an example, we know exactly what is going on in her head and how much of an outsider she feels when Kayla mimics the sounds and facial expressions of people who dislike her. We also know how petrified she is to be alone with a boy who wants to take things too far but she isn’t confident enough to call him on it.
By the end we are screaming with pride as she finally stands up to the girls who have been so rude to her. We wish we could have had that confidence ourselves at age 13.
Fisher’s incredible performance makes “Eighth Grade” a coming of age story for people at every stage of life. Despite being firmly set in the world of a 13-year-old girl, it shows us all that things can and will get better. Believe in yourself and you can do it.
Fisher is due to appear in “The Shaggs” (release date TBC), a biopic about the band of the same name which formed in 1968. The Shaggs were an all-female rock band known for their inability to write or perform in any coherent way.
I’m really looking forward to seeing what else Fisher does in the future because I bet it will be awesome.
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Hi, I'm Caz. I live in Edinburgh and I watch a lot of films. My reviews focus mainly on women in film - female directors or how women are represented on screen.