Magazine article Screen International

'Eighth Grade': Sundance Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Eighth Grade': Sundance Review

Article excerpt

Comedian Bo Burnham makes his debut with the sharply observed tale of the challenges of adolescence

Eighth Grade

Dir/scr. Bo Burnham. US, 94 min. 2017

When we first meet 13-year-old Kayla Day, she is, like so many of today’s adolescents, making an online video, in which she talks about the challenges of being yourself at the same time as she herself, is struggling to do just that. In between her multiple “ums,” “you knows,” “likes,” and empty platitudes, the real Kayla Day may be in there somewhere. But in this alternatingly funny and sad social-mediated spin on the typical coming-of-age film, it will take her a while to figure it all out.

A piquant series of vignettes that form a singular and focused portrait of youthful angst

In his debut feature, actor and comedian Bo Burnham (The Big Sick, MTV’s Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous) tackles an apropos topic given his background as a teenage online sensation. (he has over 1,3m subscribers to his YouTube channel.) Burnham clearly knows the milieu of today’s adolescents; a particularly vivid early montage in the film, scored to Enya’s “Sail Away,” depicts Kayla’s lyrical and disturbing journey down the Internet rabbit hole of Buzzfeed quizzes, YouTube clips, and snapchat feeds. For the uninitiated, it may look like some kind of new-media-fueled hallucinogenic drug-trip. For teenagers, it’s just their nightly media ritual.

While Eighth Grade may look, on its surface, like a typical adolescent comedy, with its underdog protagonist pitted against popular girls and boy crushes, it is more a piquant series of vignettes that form a singular and focused portrait of youthful angst. Will younger audiences leave their pocket-sized screens to see this cinematic sketch in movie theaters, or discover it on iTunes, Amazon, or torrent sites? It will likely depend on U.S. distributor A24 Films, who’ve managed to make such domestic box-office successes out of films such as Lady Bird, The Disaster Artist and Spring Breakers. If anyone can make Eighth Grade work, it’s them - together with Burnham’s many online fans.

The film follows Kayla - voted “Most Quiet” by her class - through a series of painfully awkward encounters on the eve of her middle-school graduation. …

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