After showing the world his talent as a musician on YouTube and dazzling us with his commentary on society through his stand-up comedy, Bo Burnham has shifted his attention to the big screen. His new film, “Eighth Grade,” is Burnham’s brilliant attempt to show the world what it’s like to be in middle school with social media outlets like Snapchat and Instagram fully integrated in young culture.
The film follows an eighth-grade girl named Kayla Day a week before graduating from middle school. Viewers are greeted with an opening of one of her vlogs that she uploads to YouTube. During this scene, she gives us various life advice tips behind a bed sheet. During this commentary we see her craft a fake persona on social media, spending a considerable time applying make-up then post a snap of her “waking up like this.” Following Kayla, her videos and her life through eighth grade gives the audience a never-before-seen look into the younger generation of kids.
The writing and acting during this film, while hard to comprehend certain slang terminology, was impressive. Burnham chose young actors who talk and act their age. According to an interview between Burnham and Seth Meyers, Burnham noticed that a lot of movies about teenagers have scripts that have young characters speak as if they are a “Poet laureate.”
“I just wanted to have a story about a kid that spoke like kids speak,” Burnham said in the interview. “That is the movie, how do you write someone who can’t speak, how do you dress someone who can’t dress because you are in eighth grade and you are a mess.”
The result of Burnham’s vision spoke volumes in regards to the final product. Every actor’s performance was genuine, helping the audience relate to the characters in the film.
The film should be praised for is its inclusion of tiny details. Whether it be a teacher dabbing or a sex-ed video saying “It’s going to get lit,” there’s no shortage of moments that give the film considerable charm. Also, these minute details add to how genuine the movie feels to watch. There are many awkward situations in life that are diffused by using comedy. The overall atmosphere would strange if a film about one of the most awkwards stages of anyone's life not be filled with these little releases of tension.
Social anxiety is a crucial theme when it comes to “Eighth Grade.” Middle school is a transitional time, and with them comes anxiety. Having this be the focal point of the film adds a certain weight to it. In many scenes, viewers watch as Kayla cowers in the bathroom of a pool party, pacing back and forth and hyperventilating. Not only are those in-person interactions hard to stomach, this anxiety follows these kids everywhere on social media.
“Life for a 13-year-old, or someone with social anxiety, tiny moments feel like life and death,” said Burnham during an interview with Ethan Klein on his H3 podcast.
Burnham draws inspiration for the film from his personal battles with anxiety and suffering from panic attacks during his stand-up performances. In the interview with Klein, Burnham explains his experiences in the last few years dealing with anxiety.
“My worry was that ‘If I say it, it’s real,’” Burnham said. “Where if i admit that I am going through this, then I am never going to stop thinking about it, and it is the exact opposite. Speaking it is the salvation.”
“Eighth Grade” reflects this mentality. Kayla treats her father poorly throughout the movie, but through her connecting with her family and talking about her anxiety and doubts, it’s the biggest emotional turning point in the film.
Overall, “Eighth Grade” is about as accurate as one can get when portraying the life of a 13-year-old in the modern era. It leaves one reminiscing on experiences living through middle school, and the progress that’s occured since then. This film teaches the audience that these moments are just a part of life.
Contact Jonah Howells at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.