Vine star, YouTuber, stand up comedian, and now screenwriter and director; it seems like Bo Burnham succeeds at anything he attempts. The indie darling film Eighth Grade, written and directed by Mr. Burnham, made its Scottish premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival on 28 February, with Burnham in attendance.
Eighth Grade is a tour de force of storytelling in the tradition of countless coming-of-age stories. We meet Kayla (Elsie Fisher), a 13-year-old girl trying to survive her last year of middle school. Eighth Grade embraces the awkwardness of being thirteen; Kayla’s acne, her stutter, and her social anxiety are all shown front and centre on the big screen. Kayla’s world is shaped by what she sees online, through social media and YouTube, and she desperately tries to live a life where she thinks she’d be happy. Full of sorrow, joy, tension, and great awkward moments, Eighth Grade hits all the marks of any good film.
What elevates Eighth Grade beyond being just a good film is the power of Burnham’s youthful directorial voice. Burnham pioneers a way to portray the internet and its ubiquity in our modern lives in a way that is both a cinematic feat and addresses the way it has changed the way children grow up. The montages of Kayla scrolling through social media are almost meditative and spiritual. The soundtrack, produced by Scot Anna Meredith, is used by Burnham to great flamboyant and dramatic effect.
Just as revelatory is the film’s star, 15-year-old Elsie Fisher. Burnham noted that from the very moment he saw her, he knew she was the one to play Kayla. And he is not wrong: Fisher carries the focus of an entire movie on her shoulders, yet this weight is unnoticeable as she gives remarkable performance scene after scene. Elsie Fisher is a name you would do well to look out for in the future.
After the premiere, Burnham discussed how he would never feel comfortable directing a screenplay that he didn’t write himself, and it is understandable why: Eighth Grade is a remarkable, unique film that draws considerable influence both in its writing and its direction from Burnham’s style of comedy. While Oscar nominations did elude it (a snub if there ever was one), Eighth Grade shines and Burnham and Fisher ought both to be celebrated for the production of this marvellous film.
Image: KC Bailey via Netflix