If there is a name you should look out for, it’s Bo Burnham. His directorial debut Eighth Grade premiered in May at Sundance Film Festival and has since snowballed, receiving praise from anyone fortunate enough to attend a screening. Burnham’s painfully funny and accurate depiction of a 13-year-old girl suffering through her final week of eighth grade (or year 9) is what Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club) has called “the best film about adolescence I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe ever.”
Just over ten years ago, Bo gained quite a following on YouTube, showcasing his skills as a musical comic and an all-round funny guy. Anyone with a Netflix account will have stumbled across Bo’s superb comedy specials What (2013) and Make Happy (2016), not to mention other stand up shows he has directed for the likes of Chris Rock and Jerrod Carmichael. Bo even released his own whimsical poetry book, EGGHEAD, back in 2013. And now, here we are in 2018, Bo Burnham is 27 and he’s directing movies…
Elsie Fishers stars as eighth-grader Kayla Day in a performance so convincing that at times, it feels like you’re watching a documentary…about yourself! Somehow Burnham has managed to write a character whose experiences are so authentic and relevant, it’s almost a relief to witness – a kind of hilarious therapy. I was consoled by the audiences shared reaction, the tears, and the laughter, as it reassured that this isolating and confusing teenage experience has been felt by many. It was cathartic at points; I sobbed hard and worked harder to conceal this as Bo was sitting directly behind me.
In Eighth Grade, we follow a girl battling the anxieties of modern times: self-perception, online presence, loneliness, and acceptance. We see her taking selfies, making vlogs, and addressing an imagined audience – a “shy” girls attempt to put herself out there. Her videos inadvertently work as a form of self-counseling, simultaneously heart-breaking and inspiring to watch – after all, who’s really listening (apart from us of course)? The awareness of anxiety surrounding this film has been carefully handled and validated, so much that our star Elsie Fisher has written an essay discussing her own experiences. (Link: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/eighth-grade-elsie-fisher-on-anxiety/amp?__twitter_impression=true)
It’s rare that a coming of age movie features actual kids playing kids (remember the 30-year-old T-Birds in Grease?). The decision to cast real youngsters has paid off immensely. It’s difficult to truthfully illustrate the shit-show of adolescence when you’ve cast a bunch of airbrushed 20-year olds prancing about in their knickers. Eighth Grade will make you cringe, cry, and cackle, and in order to understand what teenagers today are going through, Eighth Grade is a must see.
Eighth Grade is being shown in selected cinemas in the U.S but is expected to be accessible soon in the UK.