Release Date: July 20th, 2018
Cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson
Director: Bo Burnham
Writers: Bo Burnham
Producers: Eli Bush, Tom Ishizuka, Jamin O'Brien, Scott Rudin, Christopher Storer, Lila Yacoub
Running Time: 1 Hour, 34 Minutes
It's just not possible that anyone could have predicted how teenagers would be interacting with one another in the modern day, had you asked anyone about ten years ago. MySpace was the popular social media platform, before the term "social media" was even coined, and YouTube was just beginning to take on the industry. No one could have predicted the rise of social media stars, the massive popularity and life that smartphones would take on as technology got better and better, in such a short period of time. I remember being a teenager, and while it was definitely a period of time I would consider isolating, it's gotten so much more difficult. Instead of simply creating a website about yourself, you're on display 24/7, with this feeling that you need to report everything you're thinking about and doing at any moment in time. Eighth Grade, the directorial debut from writer/director/comedian Bo Burnham, explores these feelings and the role that technology plays in the life of a modern-day teenager.
The film follows 13-year old Kayla (Elsie Fisher) as she navigates her last week of eighth grade before heading off into high school. We learn about Kayla's life rather quickly, and it appears to be mostly digital. She's constantly scrolling through her iPhone, either on Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram, longingly staring at the lives of others. She hosts a YouTube show called "Kayla's Korner", where she tries her best to give advice and touch on topics. It's clear that there's a great deal of insecurity in Kayla, but she does her very best. She longs to be "cool", but doesn't really know what that means yet. She only knows what it means through the eyes of an Instagram filter. We see that she lives with a single parent (her father) and that there is a bit of strain in their relationship.
The film chronicles the next seven days as Kayla begins to make the transition from middle to high school. Simultaneously, we see how she begins to notice the hold that social media and technology have over her life, and how it makes real life so much more intimidating for today's youth. It makes moments like getting up and doing karaoke at a pool party in front of a group of peers just as intense as asking someone out, if not more intense than the former.
The most stunning aspect of this film is how real the film is. All of the extras in the film are middle school students; Burnham strives for authenticity. Their speech is never perfect, as they stumble their way through conversation after conversation, truly learning how to get a grasp on reality and become themselves as they prepare to enter the real world. The film constantly calls out the ingenuity of adults trying to be "hip" and relate to teenagers, while also bringing to light situations that have become a reality for middle school students. Instead of earthquake drills, students perform active shooter drills. There's a dark moment later in the film where Kayla is coerced into a game of Truth or Dare with an older high school boy, shedding light on the peer pressure that young women encounter on a near-daily basis.
Eighth Grade is a strikingly honest and real piece of film-making, one that thrives off of the confrontation of reality and the constant competition between the facade that makes up a teenager's iPhone and what's actually in front of them. It's a film that opens the floor for discussion in a variety of ways, whether the topic is peer pressure, navigating the digital age, or being a teenager in the modern world. It could be one of the most important films of the next five years, and it's one that is worthy of your attention.
Eighth Grade opens in theaters everywhere this Friday, July 20th.