Bo Burnham’s glorious “Eighth Grade”

Bo Burn­ham’s Eighth Grade.

For all the dis­rup­tion and chaos unleashed by the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion and the brand new medi­um it spawned, the Inter­net, the media land­scape that has emerged is, at least thus far, stub­born­ly tra­di­tion­al. Nobody in pub­lish­ing, cin­e­ma or tele­vi­sion dreams of being on the Inter­net. And nobody on the web is per­fect­ly hap­py where they are. 

All of them dream, with a des­per­a­tion that is pal­pa­ble, of land­ing that pub­lish­ing, TV and or cin­e­ma deal. Hith­er­to how­ev­er, none of them had seemed to offer any­thing oth­er than a pale fac­sim­i­le of the kind of tal­ent on view in the more tra­di­tion­al media. Most Youtu­bers and influ­encers have come across as diaphanous­ly trans­par­ent and guile­less­ly unsophisticated.

So Eighth Grade will be one of two things. The excep­tion that goes to prove an oth­er­wise gold­en rule. Or the first of what will prove to be an increas­ing­ly com­mon phe­nom­e­non. The work of a crossover artist who suc­cess­ful­ly strad­dles both the new and the old.

Elsie Fish­er as Kay­la in Eighth Grade.

Eighth Grade isn’t mere­ly good, it’s stun­ning. Com­fort­ably the film of the year, and one of the top six or sev­en films of the decade. And there are so many dif­fer­ent ways it could have been a com­plete disaster. 

The film fol­lows Kay­la, a 12 year old who’s recent­ly turned 13 and is mov­ing from what we call pri­ma­ry into sec­ondary school. So, unlike any oth­er girl of her age, she is unimag­in­ably inse­cure, crip­pling­ly shy and hope­less­ly social­ly awk­ward. So she dis­ap­pears into her screen, invest­ing all of her care and atten­tion in her dig­i­tal per­sona, resigned to be for­ev­er friend­less and impos­si­bly alone in the real world beyond the pixels. 

Bo Burn­ham.

It could so eas­i­ly have been cloy­ing­ly sen­ti­men­tal, or patro­n­is­ing or san­i­tized, or, most obvi­ous­ly of all, Hol­ly­wood­ized – i.e. a sick­ly con­coc­tion of all of the above. Remark­ably, not to say impres­sive­ly, it is instead a beau­ti­ful­ly nuanced, sub­tle and grown-up por­trait of a girl, as she moves from child­hood into that brief, inter­me­di­ate state before emerg­ing as a ful­ly-fledged adult. 

It’s hard to know which is more note-wor­thy, Bo Burn­ham’s writ­ing, his direc­tion, or Elsie Fisher’s per­for­mance as Kay­la. All the per­for­mances are impec­ca­ble, and Josh Hamil­ton is espe­cial­ly good as her well mean­ing but gen­er­a­tional­ly clum­sy father. But Fish­er is out­stand­ing in the lead. Yet it is ulti­mate­ly Burn­ham who emerges as the real star. Because Eighth Grade is that rare thing, a seri­ous film. And Burn­ham is ver­i­ly a man to watch.

You can see the trail­er to Eighth Grade here.

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