Eight words I never expected to say: Bo Burnham may be the next John Hughes.
This past year, A24 released the Bo Burnham film, Eighth Grade. Burnham, who grew to fame with YouTube videos featuring original comedic material, writes and directs the film which focuses on Kayla Day, a young girl finishing eighth grade and preparing for high school. Kayla, played to perfection by Elsie Fisher (McFarland, USA), lives with her single father, Mark (Josh Hamilton), and spends most of her time making YouTube videos and living her life through her social media accounts. Kayla doesn’t have any friends and spends most of her time alone. As the film moves forward, she pushes herself to try to make more friends and become more outgoing.
The film is without a doubt a solid character study mixed with a window into the life of this new generation–one that has grown up with technology constantly at their fingertips. Two characters even discuss that fact about halfway through the film. Kayla states that she has had snapchat since fifth grade, and one character comments on the fact that kids could send “dick pics” in fifth grade and how that’s a clear difference in how much things have changed. While the film mentions this in this one conversation, it doesn’t harp on it or make it an excessive point throughout the film. Kayla’s dad never talks about the changes in generations. There’s never anything more than a window into what it’s like to be at this age in this time right now. It’s all laid out without any explanation or reason; this is just what life is like now.
Burnham also does an amazing job at using music to help convey what this world feels like. At one point, Kayla is going through Twitter and Instagram feeds and the Enya song “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)” plays, and honestly, it’s quite possibly one of the best uses of that song ever in film or TV. It flows so perfectly and helps you understand how this world feels–to just “sail away” into the bliss of the social media feed, where you can see all the fake smiles and memes people post. And despite the obvious connotation there, it doesn’t feel forced at all. It feels perfect, and fits perfectly. Burnham uses the exact right music cues to say, “This is EXACTLY how this feels, and you know this.” And he’s right.
In some ways, you could lump Eighth Grade into the “coming of age” genre of films, but it almost doesn’t feel like that. There are hints of it here and there, but even at the end of the film, Kayla admits that she doesn’t know what the future will hold for her or how she will feel about things at the end of high school. She could be four years away from having a repeat experience of what just unfolded within the 90 minutes of this film. It could be argued that by saying that, she does gain some wisdom, but it’s the same wisdom she’s had throughout the entirety of the film. Whenever she does something that is against her status quo, she makes a YouTube video about it, be it, doing something out of your comfort zone, revealing who you are to people, or just gaining confidence. It’s easy to say these things and say we’re going to do them, but that doesn’t mean we do. Even when we attempt to, they don’t always pan out the way we expect them to.
Eighth Grade is a perfect John Hughes film for this generation. It’s a film that says, “This is what life is like for 21st century kids as they’re getting older. This is the world they live in right now.” And it’s easy for us adults to say that they’re just kids, they don’t have to worry about things, or their issues aren’t such a big deal. But they do, and they are. Life is not easy, and it’s even harder for kids and teenagers. Especially in a day and age where everyone is connected and broadcasts across various social media feeds for the entire world to see. You can’t hide who you are anymore. You can just try to create a version of yourself that you think may work, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you just have to decide to be you, and see if anyone worthwhile comes along that actually likes you for you.
Eighth Grade is currently available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital, and is streaming on Amazon Prime.