When I heard Bo Burnham made a movie about 8th Grade I was expecting something almost as flashy and quick witted as his comedy. Sort of Wes Anderson meets John Hughes. What I got was a thoughtful, careful yet captivating movie about the struggles of an awkward teen in today’s technological world.
My experience watching this film was unlike any other I have ever seen in that I felt that I was continually having flash backs to 8th Grade. There were so many little details that I forgot about that age but upon seeing them, immediately brought me back. In school, there were kids playing with their gum, shouting weird things in assembly, stacking Crayola markers. It all felt real. The nervous walk to the door of a party reminded me
I came out of the movie feeling someone had pulled a magic trick on me. How did he pull this off?
Part of what makes this movie so great is that it really is depicting 8th grade now and not Bo Burnham’s vision of his time in 8th grade. He had to be flexible enough to allow kids to allow the actors to put their own spin on the characters but selective enough to create a plot out of it. The plot feels much more driven than a Richard Linklater movie, however it doesn’t seem as deliberate as a John Hughes movie.
Elsie Fisher is perfect for the role. Bo Burnham mentioned on Jimmy Kimmel that all the other actresses who auditioned seemed like they were confident trying to play shy, whereas she was shy trying to play confident. In many other teen movies, the lead looks like a model, but is dressed up to seem far more awkward. Did you ever buy that Hailee Steinfeld would only have one friend in Edge of Seventeen? Or that Ally Sheedy had to do more than pull her hair back in the Breakfast Club? I love both of these movies, but the thing that makes 8th Grade so unique is that I really bought that Elsie Fisher was that awkward 8th grader. She doesn’t have perfect skin or a perfect body or a confident personality and that’s what makes her so relatable.
A lot is being made of the depiction of social media in the movie and it is great, but what makes it great is his lack of commentary. Bo Burnham wasn’t trying to hit the audience over the head with a sermon about the negative affects of social media. Instead he opts to show this girl’s interactions with her phone in everything that it is. It’s stressful when she can’t find the right snapchat angle and it’s sad when she’s not talking to her dad at the dinner table, however we’re also so happy when she gets a message from someone she likes. Kids now all have some relationship to social media and there isn’t something inherently good or bad about it.
Another reason it felt so real is the fact that I felt that every character and age group had their own voice and way of speaking. Watching the dad talking to his girl at the dinner table and trying to make her feel better put me in an odd place. Because I’m 21 and sort of between both age groups so I totally understand what he was trying to do but I also understand her angst and anger from what she feels is a canned speech. The other thing I appreciated about the writing was how the conversations changed when they show the scene of the high schoolers talking. One of them is talking about how they shouldn’t have a charity run for a kid who died, while another kid is offended. This still seems childish from an adult perspective but it also contrasts the more childish conversations that students were having in middle school.
This movie is instantly added to the list of genre changing coming of age movies like Rebel Without A Cause, The Breakfast Club, Kids, and Clueless. Nothing yet has been able to capture this generation or possibly that age group as well as 8th grade.