Eighth Grade is now available to stream, rent or buy.
Eighth Grade is a unique cinematic creature, as it captures a universal perspective on an immensely subjective experience. If you had said before 2018 that a late-20s male comedian would perfectly capture the feelings of a female middle-schooler in the online age’, many would have scoffed. Yet, that is precisely what Bo Burnham achieved in his directorial debut. However, this treasure had been crafted through Burnham’s comedy over many years as he grappled with themes of sexuality, the sense of self, mental illness amidst an online audience – and above all else, anxiety. Make no mistake; Eighth Grade is one of the most anxiety-inducing films you may ever watch, which is a title typically reserved for terrifying horror or heart-pumping thrillers.
To 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 how eighth grade itself is a crucial year for forming your own self-awareness, and perhaps that’s what makes the film strangely terrifying. We see Kayla go through the struggles, world-ending experiences and frankly traumatic moments that reflect our own experiences on the rocky road to adulthood.
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Many films that reflect internet culture immediately become outdated due to changing lingo cringe attempts at meme inclusion and advancing online trends, but Burnham did his research here. The way that Kayla, Olivia, Gabe and all the other teens speak feels shockingly authentic, as though Burnham has snuck his camera into a real-life pool party, spookily observing the jungle of teenage life, unnoticed. However, for all of Burnham’s mastery, newcomer Elsie Fisher is 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.” On that statement alone, Elsie-as-Kayla is every one 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 want so desperately to reach out and tell Kayla, “this will pass”, just as you wish someone had told you during your teen years.
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One of Eighth Grade’s most fascinating assets to this day is Anna Meredith’s soundtrack. Scenes pulsate and blare with electronic melodies and technological sonnets. Each sound cleverly underscores the artificial emotion that Kayla emits throughout the film to both her online audience and friends. But when she finally speaks with her dad, it’s silent. Her fire-side chat with father Mark (Josh Hamilton) encapsulates the importance of being able to talk to your parents. Here their relationship is modelled on Bo and his mum, something I can relate to in my own life, and perhaps that’s why I love this scene so much.