OSCAR NOMINATED already, Eighth Grade is the debut feature from YouTube star Bo Burnham, and while it is easy to be apprehensive of a movie from a 27-year-old stand-up comedian, this is a strikingly good debut.
Eighth Grade stars Elsie Fisher as Kayla, a social media obsessed teenager, who also struggles with her confidence, during her last week of middle school. The film opens with her talking directly to the camera - she is recording a video for her YouTube channel - about how to be more outgoing, and the importance of being yourself.
She has the cadence and tone of YouTubers perfectly like “hey guys” and "like and subscribe to my channel” and even her own little sign off catch phrase. Despite the confidence in her videos, she is completely introverted in school, and there is the suggestion that she does not have many viewers. This is a basic premise, but at a tight 90 minutes, this is a really terrific film.
'A particularly heartbreaking scene is when Kayla asks her father if he is disappointed he does not have a cooler daughter'
People who grew up with the internet are now making movies about the internet, or more accurately, in the case of Eighth Grade, about the effect of social media and digital technology on teenagers. The film does not use internet as a scapegoat or a boogeyman. The internet is just a part of life, and it always has been for Burnham so it is for Kayla also.
One of the things I like so much about this movie is its kind heart. It is neither mocking nor cruel to Kayla, nor is it unbearably grim. She is bullied in school; her relationship with her dad is complicated and she takes her frustrations out on him.
A particularly heartbreaking scene is when Kayla asks her father if he is disappointed he does not have a cooler daughter. He is so shocked at the question he can barely articulate how little that matters. It is moments like this this Burnham gets so right. I think of teen films with a similar theme - Welcome To The Doll House and Lady Bird - great films, but told from the perspective of an adult looking back, whereas here, Burnham has managed to get in the head of an adolescent and the trivial things that matter so much.
Getting lost in your head has never been presented better on screen. I read an article recently in The New Republic calling this the 'Age of Anxiety'. Let us not pretend anxiety is just a teenage thing. This might be the perfect film for our times.