The title educational level is arguably the most difficult, frightening and socially disastrous time of most people’s lives. Dozens, maybe hundreds of films have tried to delve into and portray the angst and insecurity of a tweener on the cusp of adulthood, but few have been as perceptive and sensitive as this astoundingly assured feature film debut of writer/director Bo Burnham, heretofore a stand-up comic and musician.
But Bo couldn’t have done it without young Elsie Fisher, who makes it all work in the pivotal and demanding lead role as Kayla, a sweet and wise video blogger trying to make it to the end of middle school and into a vastly more promising high school. She’s honest, open, and most important, believable.
She is of course awkward, vulnerable and anxious, but also resilient and armed with a strong sense of self. You can’t tell whether she’s acting or just being herself (she’s the same age as her character), but the result is one of the funniest, saddest and most keenly observed teen movies ever made. Consider it an antidote to John Hughes’s movies. Do not miss this little gem. (93 min)