Eighth Grade

LetterboxD review link

Bo Burnham’s debut is a masterful addition to the coming of age genre. In the last couple of years, in addition to films like Boyhood and Lady Bird, and even Call Me By Your Name, we’ve seen a resurgance in films exploring adolesensce. Perhaps this is tied with our anxieties as an aging nation, and one that is (in some populations anyway) not birthing as fast as we’re dying. Perhaps it is related to other anxieties about boomers and Gen X-ers ruining the economy, climate, world standing, and so much else about our society. I’ve seen a lot of chatter about how the “kids will save us,” especially on the left, so maybe these movies are picking up on that sentiment.

Beyond any of these things, though, Eighth Grade shares with these other films an overall excellence in story telling, world-building and depth of empathy with its characters. If the 80s were the decade of American depression, we are squarely in the age of American anxiety. Neither disorder (can something still really be a disorder if it describes the living condition of such huge swaths of society?) is all that fun to suffer from but anxiety does seem to make better fodder for stories than depression. There is certainly more action and momentum around it, at least.

At the BAM Cinemafest screening I saw of this film, the entire cast was in attendence and they were as lovable in person as on screen. Near the end of the Q&A, a 7th grader with purple hair asked Bo Burnham, “how can you, a 20-something man, capture my social anxiety as a middle schooler so well?” Burnham broke down into tears, thanked her for her question, and couldn’t answer her question because he was so moved.