Culture Crash 18-29: Bo Burnham’s Brilliant New Film, Eighth Grade

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture.  What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

2014 had Boyhood, last year had Lady Bird, and this year has Bo Burnham’s new film, Eighth Grade.

Coming of age stories can be truly phenomenal, but sometimes they can come off a bit idealistic. It’s a complaint I have with John Hughes movies. I can’t remember a time growing up when the nerd, the princess, the jock, the basket case and the criminal sat in a circle pouring their hearts out. I know that’s part of those movie’s charm, and they’re classics for a reason, but if you prefer your coming of age movies with a realistic edge, Eighth Grade is in your lane.

The film tells the story of Kayla, an eighth grade outsider with a YouTube channel and a penchant for making you cringe and breaking your heart at the same time. Writer/director Bo Burnham has said he wanted to make a movie that reflects the reality of current eighth graders and not the reality of his time in middle school, and it appears the work paid off. This is a story of smartphones and webcams, of teens who wear earbuds at the dinner table. But of course some things never change, so it’s also about going to a pool party you’re dreading attending, feeling like no one likes you, and longing to be just a few years older.

The movie is funny, and also scary at times. There are several sequences that make the audience uncomfortable- the theater I was in was full of actual squirming and people yelling at the screen. I can see those moments taking certain audience members out of the movie. But it reflects the reality of youth, for better or worse.

Bo Burnham is a former YouTuber himself and, at 27, already has a catalogue of comedy specials on Netflix. Now, he’s turned his attention to directing and, like Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig before him, has hit it out of the park on his first outing. Eighth Grade is in theaters now.

I’m Evan Rook.