by Alex Gerhlein ’19
Do you remember your time in eighth grade? The awkward encounters, the silent embarrassment, the feeling that it would all never end? Bo Burnham’s film lives in that space and takes utter joy in ridiculing it.
Many might not know Bo Burnham, but to fill you in, he started posting musical comedy videos to YouTube at the age of sixteen, and would go on to become the youngest comedian to get his own special on Comedy Central at just eighteen years old. Up until now, he has mostly stayed in this realm of musical comedy, creating deeply personal, while still hilarious songs and some pretty good specials. All of this is to say that Bo Burnham knows a few things that make him perfect for this story: comedy, emotion, and the internet.
Eighth Grade follows Kayla Day through her last week of eighth grade, and depicts her slow journey towards becoming comfortable with who she is, and not the facade she fronts to her classmates. While to some this might sound more like a PTSD flashback than a good movie, I can assure you it is fantastic.
First, the positives. The greatest praise I can possibly give this film is this: it gets the internet right. Have you ever seen a film (typically a horror movie) where a character tackily texts an incoherent stream of LOLs and smiley faces to someone, only for the device to be promptly written out of the film’s plot? What about characters browsing a Google substitute that looks less professional than my starting website in Mr. Jarc’s web design class? Doesn’t it ring false? Doesn’t it bug you? Well I can tell you that it bugs me and many, many others to no end, and thankfully someone seems to have gotten the message. Burnham’s characters communicate like actual teens. Try talking to a freshman about their usage of technology last year, and it will probably sound something like how this film portrays it.
Secondly, the performances. The guts it must have taken to cast an actual eighth grader in this role not only with such emotionally impactful material, but also on his first film makes Burnham deserve some serious credit. Elsie Fisher is fantastic. So many movie kids are either a: played by hapless adults trotting about in Hot Topic tees, or b: played unsuccessfully by inexperienced child actors. Fisher’s performance should sit right at the top of great child performances along with The 400 Blows and Stand By Me. She is sure to become a master performer if her skills improve from the already high starting point. Special thanks should also be given to Josh Hamilton for playing the pathetically lovable father to Fisher’s character, providing some seriously impactful moments and never ceasing to please.
What else can I say? The soundtrack is amazing; Burnham does a more than serviceable job of directing (but I’ll get into that in a bit); the writing is beyond reproach; to put it simply this film is without the faults plaguing most movies made about kids.
I’ll take a quick moment to discuss two things: the direction and the cinematography. Both were good enough for the most part, with the direction really improving towards the end of the film, but I can give Burnham a bit of a pass as it is his first feature. However, the cinematography was really something else entirely. Some moments (particularly a scene at a backyard campfire) were shot exceptionally well, but others seemed to be amateurish. The quality of shots in this film rises and falls rapidly and turns on a dime. Some consistency would have been very much appreciated, but overall it works when it has to.
Burnham’s debut is brilliant. Nowhere else have I seen a more accurate and impactful portrayal of this particular stage of adolescence. Fair warning, this is not a family film. This is an R-rated portrayal of eighth grade, and really, these days I don’t see another way to portray it. Burnham has guts to do some of the things he does, and I tip my hat to his willingness to explore certain areas.
I give this one a 10/10. It is my favorite film of the year so far. Go and see it if you can. If not, buy it when it’s available.