Friday, July 20, 2018

Eighth Grade

Stand-up comedian Bo Burnham broke out as a YouTube star in 2006, two years after Facebook was founded. He's considered a viral pioneer, with people mimicking his style of skits and songs later on to oblivion. Nobody considered he'd turn to filmmaking, but here he is, remarkably getting into the mind of a 13-year-old girl in his feature film, Eighth Grade. Ironically enough, the star of his film, Elsie Fisher, who plays Kayla, was born in 2003, and I would assume had no prior knowledge of who Bo was. 

Eighth Grade is probably the most relatable film to tackle teenage adolescence in years. Burnham wanted to keep it personal to himself but put the focus on a younger character - a teenage girl. Kayla is overly shy and anxious, maneuvering her way through her final year in middle school, struggling to fit in and be noticed. She comes home after school and makes inspirational YouTube videos to a virtually empty audience, making them seem more self-therapeutic than anything else. Her dad, played by Josh Hamilton, is the most endearing father figure you'll ever watch, and if you're past the age of 24, you find your heart going out to him and the trials and tribulations he goes through with his daughter on regular basis. 

You may wonder how a male director, one who's never written a movie before, could relate so well to a 13-year-old girl. Burnham did research online, finding teens on YouTube who weren't getting the same level of viral success he was years prior. He told Rolling Stone,  “I remember just watching these [clips] and thinking: If this was a performance, this would be incredible,” he says. “What got me was that image of a kid looking into a camera, addressing an audience who she knows is probably not there. Yet we’re there, watching the movie.” 

Mean Girls garnered a cult status for the comedic value Tina Fey brought to the screenplay and the superb acting of rising stars that were later catapulted into success. Larry Clark's Kids, on the other hand, was bold and gritty, with Harmony Korine contributing to a brazen script that shocked an entire generation in the '90s. A wake-up call to the world, Kids was uncomfortable to the point of worry - was this really what teenagers were doing? Eighth Grade, on the other hand, is simply real. It's not over-the-top like Mean Girls, nor does it take place in a brash urban setting like Kids. It's about everyday, suburban youth and growing up - with the everyday pummelling of social media taking center stage and commandeering the narrative. 

I haven't personally related to a movie like this in years. The sentences uttered are almost identical to what I put my own parents through growing up. All too familiar, I found myself squirming and cringing, remembering exactly what it was like during these turbulent years. Being in my mid-20s and growing up with Facebook, the subject matter of social media being all-too-consuming was familiar, but not to the level it affects teenagers today. With Instagram and Snapchat at an all-time high, the pressure to maintain a perfectly curated life is more dangerous to mental health than ever. 

 If you want to re-live all your middle school and high school traumas - and trust me, it's fun - be sure to check out Eighth Grade, hitting Vancouver and Toronto theatres on July 20th and the rest of Canada August 3rd.

Huge thank you to Taro PR and Elevation Pictures for the fantastic opportunity to view this screening. 



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