Are you ready for Eighth Grade?  The third film in our Resilience Film Series is the breakout indie comedy of the year, directed and written by Bo Burnham, showing Friday Oct. 12th, at 7 pm in Miller Auditorium (Stark 103).  The film is rated R, and admission is free and open to the public.

You may know Bo Burnham best for his comedy routines as a stand-up comedian, and for the YouTube channel he started in 2006 that currently has over 1.5 million subscribers, as Eighth Grade is his first feature film and directorial debut. His YouTube channel uploads are comedic, ranging from him sitting in his room with his keyboard making raps to videos of him doing his stand up routines. The star of the film, Elsie Fisher has also had some previous success behind the camera, as a voice actor, voicing the character Agnes in Despicable Me when she was only five years old, but this is her first starring role, as eighth grader Kayla.

Bo Burnham and Elsie Fisher at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival

So far, Eighth Grade has won six awards and nominated for even more, including winning the “Truly Moving Picture Award” at Heartland Film and winning the “Audience Award” at both the Chicago Critics Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival.

The film centers around Kayla, who is nearly finished with the eighth grade, but is still finding herself facing struggles with fitting in, making friends, finding herself, and dealing with the anxiety that goes along with it all. Kayla is attached to her phone at the hip, using it almost as much, if not more, than she interacts with people face to face. She uses her social media platforms as a tool to connect and express herself, the main one being YouTube, where she uploads videos to her channel with the goal of giving others like her advice on topics such as “being yourself” and “having confidence.”

Elsie Fisher as Kayla in Eighth Grade

Like the first two films in the our series, Resilience and Moonlight, Burnham’s film examines a child’s difficult experiences and how they use coping mechanisms. Resilience, in particular, showed how simple it is to assess one’s own ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) score and understand how trauma can cause physical and emotional impact for the rest of an individual’s life. In Eighth Grade, the fact that Kayla’s father is the only parental figure in her life is one likely source of her anxieties.  Her experience may not seem as dramatic as Chiron’s in Moonlight, but they’re no less important a transition from childhood into adulthood.

Eighth Grade‘s R rating surprises many: it’s a film focused on a narrative of a young teenager, but thirteen and fourteen-year-olds currently in eighth grade are unable to see the film without a parent or guardian’s permission. Eighth Grade discusses sexual topics briefly, but no actions occur or are shown between any characters in the film. There is some foul language that some may find inappropriate. In my thinking, though, the rating is unfortunate, for Eighth Grade tries to present the characters in a way eighth graders actually talk and topics they would discuss among each other. Many news and film review sources, such as IndieWire and Vox have written that parents should ignore the R rating and take their eighth graders and other older kids to see the film because they are the ones who need to be seeing it most.

Bo Burnham himself fought back against the R rating by having free screenings just for eighth graders across the country, specifically so that they would be able to see the film.

What makes Eighth Grade so great is that it is a fresh look at what it’s like to be an eighth grader in the digital, social media-driven age we live in today.  But it’s the kind of funny that makes you cringe and laugh in a way that is all too familiar, by giving you second-hand embarrassment from the awkwardness of being in a thirteen-year-old’s shoes all over again. As you watch the film, think about all of the new difficulties that face teenagers in our media-driven society today, especially compared to when you or your parents were in eighth grade.  We’ll all have some new perspective into the lives of those growing up around us.

Eighth Grade shows at 7 pm Friday Oct. 12 in Miller Auditorium in Stark Hall on the Winona State University campus.  Admission is free.  Hope to see you there!

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Kyra Beske

Creative Digital Media & Film Studies Double Major at Winona State University. Vice President of Phi Theta Chi Sorority. Intern for Treedome.