Eighth Grade is now available to stream, rent or buy.
Eighth Grade is unique; it captures a universal perspective on an immensely subjective experience. If you had said before 2018 that a male comedian in his late twenties would perfectly capture the feelings of a female middle-schooler in the online age, many, including me, would have scoffed. Yet, that is precisely what Bo Burnham achieved with his stunning directorial debut. This treasure was crafted through Burnham’s comedy routine over many years as he grappled with themes of sexuality, the sense of self, mental illness amidst an online audience, and anxiety. Maybe for that reason, Eighth Grade is one of the most anxiety-inducing films I have ever watched, a trait typically reserved for terrifying horror or heart-pumping thrillers. Of course, for some, Eighth Grade is a horror as it puts the terror of mingling as a teen on full display, with a grossly honest depiction of how truly awkward adolescence is.
In interviews, Burnham commented on the importance of the eighth grade (Year 9 in the UK) as a crucial year for forming self-awareness, and perhaps that’s what makes the film strangely terrifying. Here we walk alongside Kayla as she struggles with social connections, yearns to return to childhood and desperately seeks adult experiences. It is as if Burnham somehow bottled the modern essence of being thirteen before releasing it on an unsuspecting audience. The way that Kayla, Olivia, and Gabe interact is authentic, as are the anxieties and uncertainties with an internet-age bow. However, for all of Burnham’s mastery, newcomer Elsie Fisher was the real star. Bo decided on Elsie because “she was the only one who felt like a shy kid pretending to be confident – everyone else felt like a confident kid pretending to be shy.” That statement alone reflects the experience of so many of us. I don’t believe we ever stop pretending to be confident – fake it til you make it, right? This is why Eighth Grade is such a heart-pounding experience. It feels like you’ve been dropped into a nightmare from secondary school, and you’re perpetually in fight-or-flight mode. You desperately want to reach out and tell Kayla, “This will pass,” just as you wished someone had told you the same.
One of Eighth Grade’s most fascinating assets to this day is Anna Meredith’s soundtrack, where scenes pulsate with electronic melodies and technological sonnets. In Meredith’s musical world, each sound underscores the emotions that Kayla emits throughout the film to her online audience and friends. But when she finally speaks with her dad, it’s silent, her fire-side chat with Mark (Josh Hamilton), the film’s beating heart.