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Eighth Grade (film)

Eighth Grade is a 2018 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Bo Burnham (in his feature directorial debut). The coming-of-age story follows the life and struggles of an eighth-grader, played by Elsie Fisher, during her last week of classes before graduating to high school. She struggles with social anxiety but produces vlogs giving life advice.

Eighth Grade
Eighth Grade.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBo Burnham
Produced by
Written byBo Burnham
Starring
Music byAnna Meredith
CinematographyAndrew Wehde
Edited byJennifer Lilly
Production
companies
  • A24
  • IAC Films
  • Scott Rudin Productions
Distributed by
Release date
  • January 19, 2018 (2018-01-19) (Sundance)
  • July 13, 2018 (2018-07-13) (United States)
Running time
94 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$2 million[2]
Box office$14.3 million[3]

Burnham was inspired by his own struggles with anxiety when he began writing the screenplay in 2014. He had difficulty finding funding for the project until 2016. Shooting began in Suffern and White Plains, New York, in summer 2017. Fisher was cast after Burnham noticed her on YouTube; she led a cast including Josh Hamilton and Emily Robinson. Themes include heavy use of social media, mental health in Generation Z and sexuality and consent.

The film premiered on January 19, as part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition section of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. After other festival screenings, it was released theatrically in the United States by A24 on July 13, 2018. Its R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) inspired criticism, as its decision blocked many eighth-grade viewers from seeing the film in theatres. In response, the distributors arranged free, unrated screenings across the U.S. Eighth Grade completed its North American run grossing $13.5 million on a $2 million budget.

Eighth Grade received acclaim from critics, with praise for Burnham's screenplay and direction and Fisher's performance, and was chosen by both the National Board of Review and American Film Institute as one of the Top 10 Films of 2018. The film received numerous awards and nominations, including a Golden Globe nomination for Fisher and Writers Guild and Directors Guild of America Awards for Burnham.

PlotEdit

Kayla Day is an eighth grade student finishing her final week at Miles Grove Middle School, a public school in the state of New York. She posts motivational videos on YouTube about confidence and self-image that get little to no views. Shy and struggling to make friends at school, she is voted "Most Quiet" by her classmates. Meanwhile, Mark, her single father, struggles to connect with her and break her reliance on social media.

She is invited to a pool party hosted by her classmate, Kennedy, who has done so only after being forced by her mother. At the party, Kayla has an anxiety attack in the bathroom but eventually goes outside to swim, where she meets Gabe, Kennedy's eccentric cousin. After trying to leave the party, Kayla has an awkward encounter with her crush, Aiden, who suggests that she rejoin the group. She overcomes her fear and volunteers to sing karaoke.

Hearing that Aiden broke up with his last girlfriend because she refused to send him nude photos, Kayla mentions to him in passing that she has a dirty photos folder on her phone, a fabricated story that piques his interest. He asks if she gives blowjobs, and she says yes, unsure of what to say. She later looks up oral-sex instructions online and is disgusted.

Kayla attends a high school shadow program, where she meets Olivia, a friendly twelfth grader who shows her around the high school. Olivia gives Kayla her number, and she later invites Kayla to visit the mall with some of her friends. They have a good time, though Kayla spots her father spying from afar and, embarrassed, tells him to leave. Olivia's friend Riley gives Kayla a ride home late at night. He initiates an awkward game of truth or dare where he asks about her sexual experience, takes off his shirt, and asks her to remove hers. She refuses, and he backs off, angrily claiming he was just trying to help her gain some experience. Kayla breaks down at home and is comforted by her father. She makes a video announcing that she intends to stop making videos, as she is not the person she pretends to be and feels unfit to give advice.

Kayla then opens a time capsule she created for herself in sixth grade. She watches a video she made where her past self asks questions about her current friends and love life. She asks her dad to help her burn the time capsule and asks if she makes him sad. He says that she fills him with pride and he could never be sad about her, and she hugs him tightly.

At graduation, Kayla rebukes Kennedy for ignoring her thank-you letter and acting indifferent towards her despite Kayla's attempts to be nice. She later has dinner at Gabe's house and they enjoy their time together. Kayla makes a new time capsule which she and her father bury in the backyard; she leaves a video message for her high school self encouraging her to persevere through tough times.

CastEdit

The cast includes:[4]

  • Elsie Fisher as Kayla Day
  • Josh Hamilton as Mark Day
  • Emily Robinson as Olivia
  • Catherine Oliviere as Kennedy Graves
  • Jake Ryan as Gabe
  • Luke Prael as Aiden Wilson
  • Daniel Zolghadri as Riley
  • Fred Hechinger as Trevor
  • Imani Lewis as Aniyah

ThemesEdit

The film explores anxiety.[5][6] Professor Julianna W. Miner, writing in 2018 about Eighth Grade, reflects that 22% of teenagers were struggling with depression and anxiety, and teenage girls were committing suicide at higher rates in 2015 than they were in the previous 40 years.[7] The anxiety depicted is typical in middle school, but according to reporter Valerie Strauss, also reflects life in 2018 where people of all ages see a "cacophony of indifference and downright meanness".[8] The words "um" and "like" in the screenplay also reflect "the process of struggling", rather than the characters' lack of intelligence.[9]

 
Texting and social media are featured prominently in the film.

Critic Owen Gleiberman wrote that Eighth Grade was a trailblazer in examining youth who never knew a world without the Internet, touching on sexting as well.[10] CBS News also commented that besides "the usual teen angst and acne", Eighth Grade depicts how Kayla spends a great deal of time on the Internet and engaging in text messaging. This reflects general trends in "iGen" (post-millennials), where 94% of youth have used smartphones by age 14.[11] A 2018 U.S. poll found 45% of teenagers reported "almost constantly" using the Internet. 24% called its effects "mostly negative", while 45% characterized it as "neither negative nor positive".[12]

According to Elsie Fisher, "for Kayla, social media is almost religious".[12] Burnham explained, "social media has made me think differently as a person. It's made me more anxious, I think". Professor Jean Twenge also connected an increase in Internet usage to a decline in juvenile mental health.[11] Gleiberman called the depiction an examination of "overwhelming — and, I would argue, unprecedented — woe that teenagers today can feel".[10] Author Robert Barker contrasted Eighth Grade to earlier coming-of-age films such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) and Mean Girls (2004). Rather than work through cliques, Barker wrote Kayla and others are on "a digital war of all against all, preening, pretending, and pontificating as much to themselves as to an anonymous audience". Barker also saw the sexting between characters as representing their obliviousness to lost innocence.[13] NPR interpreted the impact of the Internet during maturation as "one of the key subjects of Eighth Grade", commenting on how many people may not remember the age fondly, but social media has added complications. Even so, NPR stated Kayla is still able to grow despite great challenges.[14]

According to critic Kyle Buchanan, "The biggest mystery to ... [Kayla] is the opposite sex", considering her interest in Aiden and taking online lessons about fellatio.[15] However, journalist Chris O'Falt suggested Kayla is not truly ready for sex, but simply is "pressured to barter [her] sexuality for social acceptance".[16] Time mentioned Kayla's claim to Aiden that she has nude selfies as being among the "classic middle-school indignities" depicted in Eighth Grade.[17]

Burnham also criticized sex education in the U.S. for not exploring sexual consent, which he reflected in the "truth or dare" scene.[18] Kayla had studied sex education, but given the circumstances in the "truth or dare" scene, Kayla does not know how to react, and she feels she has to apologize.[15][19] The "truth or dare" scene has been related to the Me Too movement,[20] though it was written before the movement launched in 2017.[21] Journalist Anna Silman observed Kayla's "clearly uncomfortable body language and verbal protestations" during the scene.[22] When the scene played at the Sundance Film Festival, viewers twisted in their seats and shouted.[21]

The story also explores Kayla's relationship with her father Mark, a member of Generation X,[9] whom she is breaking away from, exhibiting typical behavior for her age.[8] His attempts to communicate with her are frustrated by her fixation with her smartphone.[23] However, journalist Sonia Rao judged Mark to be "the only constant presence in her life";[24] Mark is devoted to Kayla and later tells her he is proud of her.[25]

ProductionEdit

DevelopmentEdit

 
Bo Burnham said his anxieties inspired him to begin working on the screenplay in 2014.

Comedian Bo Burnham, who had never directed a feature before, had suffered a number of panic attacks since 2013.[26] While "feeling unsure about" himself, he reflected on his notion that eighth grade is a crucial year for forming self-awareness:[27]

I wanted to talk about anxiety and what it feels like to be alive right now, and what it is to be unsure and nervous. That felt more like middle school than high school to me. I think the country and the culture is going through an eighth-grade moment right now.[28]

Burnham was also inspired by observing a girl in a mall taking selfies while alone; he believed she was concerned about her appearance.[29] Given his career started with producing YouTube videos, he also wanted to explore the life of a character whose videos have very small audiences.[30] Work on the screenplay began in March 2014.[31] Kayla was not the sole protagonist in an initial draft of the screenplay, but Burnham decided to focus on her because her voice felt the most true of the characters.[26] He decided his protagonist would be female after watching YouTube, saying, "the boys talk about Minecraft and the girls talk about their souls ... probably half because girls are just actually maturing more quickly and half because culture asks way deeper questions of young women earlier than men".[27] He also liked the idea of a female protagonist to avoid "projecting" his personal memories of eighth grade as a male.[30] The film's working title was The Coolest Girl in the World.[32]

To write dialogue representing Generation Z, Burnham watched YouTube.[28] Burnham's personal views on the differences between Generation Z and its predecessors inspired a scene where the character Trevor theorizes access to social media at an early age molded the generation's minds.[33] Kayla and Mark's relationship is based on Burnham's relationship with his mother.[34] Burnham viewed a teenager's relationship with his or her parent as a stage where "You want independence, and you also want affirmation".[35]

After the screenplay was written, Burnham spent years seeking financing, feeling as though he proved his marketability as a comedian by 2016.[36] Particularly, he pointed to the profits from his previous comedy tour, which sold in total 150,000 tickets.[37] Scott Rudin, Eli Bush and A24 produced Eighth Grade with a budget of $2 million,[2] with A24's Nicolette Aizenberg calling it "personal" to her.[38] Although Burnham had not directed a feature before, he was adamant he be allowed to direct Eighth Grade, and spent eight months before principal photography reading books such as Making Movies by Sidney Lumet.[2]

CastingEdit

Fifty girls auditioned for the role of Kayla.[28] Elsie Fisher, then 13, said she had struggled to find a part realistically depicting a teenager before she auditioned for Eighth Grade.[39] Burnham cast Fisher because, "She was the only one who felt like a shy kid pretending to be confident – everyone else felt like a confident kid pretending to be shy".[28] He discovered her on YouTube and had her audition three times.[40] Fisher said one reason she was apprehensive at the first audition was that she was a fan of Burnham's comedy. She was drawn to the part because Kayla's speech mannerisms are similar to hers.[36] She was graduating from eighth grade at the time, with shooting to begin one week later.[41] Upon reviewing the screenplay, Fisher's father shouted and swore reading the "truth or dare" scene, but made sure his daughter was comfortable with the material.[39]

Burnham considered Josh Hamilton to have a "dad vibe".[32] Daniel Zolghadri was cast as Riley. Because of the "truth or dare" scene, many young actors who auditioned played the part as sinister, but Burnham coached Zolghadri to be "the opposite of creepy".[32] Emily Robinson and Imani Lewis were teenagers when cast and both said they found the depiction of anxiety relatable.[42] Jake Ryan, who played Gabe, remarked that in the screenplay Gabe "was supposed to be off-centered", and not knowing the meaning of this phrase, played himself.[43]

Teachers and students at Suffern Middle School in New York were used as extras, with principal Brian Fox saying five to 10 students were cast.[44] During the audition process for the real-life eighth graders, one student cited having eczema as her "special talent" and another came into the audition "eating a bell pepper like an apple", with Burnham accepting this as a qualification.[45] Band teacher Dave Yarrington said Burnham cast him because he "liked my look".[44]

FilmingEdit

 
Filming took place at the exterior of the Palisades Center.

The film was shot in Suffern, New York in summer 2017, over 27 days,[27][2] with shooting at Suffern Middle School in July.[28][44] For the mall scenes, exterior shots were taken at Palisades Center in West Nyack, New York, while interior scenes were shot at the nearby The Galleria at White Plains.[46]

Burnham did not cover up the natural look of Fisher's skin.[34] Fisher said she wore some make-up, but her acne was still visible.[42] Her habit of ending conversations with "Gucci!" was imitated by Burnham and others on set and incorporated in the film as the sign-off for Kayla's video blogs.[40] She described "Gucci" as a tic, saying other habits such as slouching and rubbing her arm were also incorporated into the film.[47] The filmmakers adopted Fisher's advice that Facebook had fallen out of favor. Much of the content relating to it was changed to Instagram.[48] Beyond some minor changes, the filmmakers did not employ much improvisation.[49]

To depict texting, Burnham rejected displaying messages as on-screen bubbles in the fashion of the U.S. TV series House of Cards. He opted instead for a realistic portrayal, showing the texts on phones, which he also found "practical".[12] Kayla's video blogging scenes were shot from a real MacBook Pro.[49] Because the actual Internet was depicted, production designer Sam Lisenco and prop designer Erica Severson created many false Instagram and Twitter accounts.[30]

The crew made use of wide lenses and Red Digital Cinema cameras and Burnham enjoyed using the zooming technique.[49] The scene where Riley makes advances on Kayla was shot with crew members in the car with the young actors. There were eight people in the car during the early-morning shoot.[32] Fisher had the screenplay on her lap and was able to read from it while her character was looking down.[50] Fisher explained her performance in the scene: "We just wanted to take a sensitive approach and just be honest about this, and portray a type of toxic event that can happen".[51] Due to Fisher being underage and the nature of the banana scene, the scene was shot on a closed set.[52]

Post-productionEdit

 
Electronic music composer Anna Meredith wrote the score.

Burnham considered using "Orinoco Flow" by Enya for the soundtrack. He said upon relistening to the song, he thought it was "very deep" and could make a web browsing scene "feel religious". He personally wrote a letter to Enya asking her permission to use the song.[27] The score was written by electronic music composer Anna Meredith, who recorded for a week in London.[49] Meredith said it was her first film score. She found it challenging because she was not only writing music she felt was right, but was looking for "what the film needs".[53] Burnham said he wished to avoid a "cute" score, and that while most electronic music is male-oriented, Meredith's was "exactly what we wanted".[49]

Fisher singing in Masha and the Bear at age 11 was worked into the film.[50] Because Fisher was never filmed turning on a phone in production, during editing a shot of her putting down and turning off a phone was played backwards.[32] Editor Jennifer Lilly and Burnham did not complete post-production until three days before it was first screened in January 2018.[2]

ReleaseEdit

The film premiered in competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival on January 19,[54][55] and was subsequently screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival in April.[56] Eighth Grade also screened at the Seattle International Film Festival at its closing weekend in June 2018.[57]

A24 gave Eighth Grade its limited release on July 13,[58] before moving it to wide release August 3.[59] The Motion Picture Association of America gave Eighth Grade an R rating for profanity and content about fellatio.[60] Burnham had the option to edit the film to secure a more permissive PG-13 but chose not to do so, commenting, "It didn't feel like our responsibility to portray a reality that was appropriate for kids, but rather portray the reality that the kids are actually living in".[61] Critics decried the MPAA's decision for denying teenage viewers a film with positive messages.[62] MPAA representative Chris Ortman stated A24 never appealed the R rating, though having the right to do so.[63] Burnham regretted the rating because it excluded middle school-aged youth.[34] To get around the rating, A24 arranged one free, unrated screening in each U.S. state on August 8.[60] Burnham approved of Canada's 14A rating. Eighth Grade began screening in Canadian cities on August 3.[64]

In September 2018, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions acquired international distribution rights to the film.[65] Lionsgate prepared the DVD and Blu-ray release in Region 1 with a director's commentary and deleted scenes,[66] for distribution beginning October 9.[67] The film was released in Belgium and the Netherlands in February 2019.[68][69] United Kingdom and Irish releases occurred on April 26, 2019.[70][71]

ReceptionEdit

Box officeEdit

Eighth Grade's opening weekend in four theaters beginning July 13 saw a gross of $252,284, an average of $63,071 per screen.[72] It surpassed Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs ($60,011) for the best per-screen average of 2018,[73][74] and was in-turn surpassed by Free Solo ($75,201) at the end of September.[75] Eighth Grade expanded to 33 theaters in its second weekend, grossing $794,370,[76] and then made $1.3 million from 158 theaters in its third weekend.[77] The film began its wide release on August 3 at 10,084 theaters,[59] and earned $6.6 million by August 6.[78]

By August 16 the film earned $10.5 million, the sixth-highest grossing independent domestic film of the summer.[79] By September 26 it had grossed $13.5 million in North America.[65] As of June 20, 2019 it has grossed $14.3 million worldwide.[3]

Critical responseEdit

On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 99% based on 290 reviews, with an average rating of 8.87/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Eighth Grade takes a look at its titular time period that offers a rare and resounding ring of truth while heralding breakthroughs for writer-director Bo Burnham and captivating star Elsie Fisher."[80] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 89 out of 100, based on 49 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[81]

Richard Roeper judged the film "sweet and intelligent" and credited Fisher for "an authentic and utterly natural performance".[82] Ty Burr also cited Fisher for a performance showing "supreme awkwardness and not a shred of vanity" and Josh Hamilton for playing his part with "an empathetic cringe".[83] The New York Times' Manohla Dargis cited Josh Hamilton as "note-perfect".[84] Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post highlighted Fisher for "a raw, radiantly generous performance".[85] Variety's Peter Debruge judged the film "achingly honest" but clichéd in having Kayla infatuated with one boy (played by Luke Prael) and ignoring a better love interest (played by Jake Ryan) until the later acts.[4]

Peter Travers hailed Eighth Grade as "special and unique" for its "empathy", writing it is neutral on the Internet's effects on society but Kayla is addicted to electronics.[86] For The New Yorker, Naomi Fry credited Eighth Grade with "queasy verisimilitude" and exploring the impact of social media on the lives of teenagers.[87] Forbes contributor Dani Di Placido wrote the depiction of electronics was better than in most films, showing they were "powerful communicative tools that can isolate us, or bring us together, depending on how we choose to use them".[88] Considering how Burnham first achieved notoriety on the Internet, Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips wrote Burnham was familiar with "the agitating seductions of our online lives".[89]

 
Media outlets quoted actress Molly Ringwald's tweet praising Eighth Grade as a film about adolescence.

In The Los Angeles Times, Justin Chang evaluated Eighth Grade as "sharp, sensitive and enormously affecting".[90] Entertainment Weekly gave it an A, with Chris Nashawaty praising Burnham for capturing Kayla's anxiety and hopes, depicted "in all of their miraculous, cringeworthy, universal beauty".[91] The A.V. Club named the scenes between Fisher and Hamilton to be among the "funniest, most poignant" scenes.[92] SF Gate critic Peter Hartlaub wrote the comedy is combined with "pure social and sexual horror".[93] Benjamin Lee commented on the score in The Guardian, writing the use of electronic music was unexpected but "effective".[94]

Media outlets also referenced actress Molly Ringwald's approval.[95] Ringwald tweeted "I just saw [Eighth Grade] and thought it was the best film about adolescence I've seen in a long time. Maybe ever".[96] Ringwald contrasted the depiction of consent in Eighth Grade to that in John Hughes' The Breakfast Club (1985), which she starred in, concluding Burnham's film was more updated.[97] Eighth Grade has been favorably compared with Hughes' filmography generally.[98]

Adam Chitwood wrote a mixed review on Collider.com, calling it "a rough draft" that needed editing to convey its points.[99] Richard Brody in The New Yorker wrote the film was let down by "sentiment, stereotypes, and good intentions", and despite Fisher's performance, "Kayla remains merely a collection of traits".[100] The Missoula Independent's Molly Laich compared the realism to being "drilled at the dentist".[101]

AccoladesEdit

The film was entered into competition for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.[4] It had four nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Film,[102] winning Best First Screenplay.[103] Fisher received her first Golden Globe nomination for the film,[104] but the film was not nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy despite reporter Kyle Buchanan considering it to be A24's best candidate for the category.[105]

Burnham and Fisher each won Breakthrough awards at the Gotham Awards.[106] Eighth Grade additionally won two National Board of Review Awards, including being named in the Top Ten Films of 2018;[107] the American Film Institute also included it in its annual top 10.[108] The film was nominated for three Satellite Awards, including Best Independent Film,[109] and three Critics' Choice Awards, winning Best Young Performer for Fisher.[110] Additionally, Burnham won the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding First-Time Feature and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay.[111][112]

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit